Of Mice and Men

John Steinbeck

Setting: south of San Francisco in the Salinas Valley of California; probably during the Depression of the 1930s; three specific locations - along the banks of the Salinas River near the ranch, in the ranch bunk house, and in the barn

Background Information:

George Milton has cared for his mentally slow friend, Lennie Small, since the death of Lennie's Aunt Clara. They travel together to work a various amount of jobs so that one day they will have enough money to live on their own and be their own bosses. Unfortunately, every time they have a job, Lennie gets into some trouble which forces them to run away. This time, they are running from a town called Weed to a ranch where they could work as ranch hands.

Major characters:

George Milton: the small, sharp - witted ranch hand who travels with Lennie, George is a typical, realistic hand who uses his mind to anticipate the future

Lennie Small: a physically large man whose mind is slow; he has a short attention span and acts similar to a child; because of his mental limitations, Lennie never could understand or anticipate the consequences of his actions; travels with and is cared for by George

Slim: a wise, well - respected ranch hand whose word is law; master craftsman who knows things without being told

Carlson: ranch hand who is the exact opposite of Slim; coarse and insensitive, Carlson does not understand the feelings of those around him

Candy: the ranch hand who wanted to join the dream of George and Lennie, Candy's one faithful companion was his dog; anticipates the bleakness of the futures of all the other ranch hands

Crooks: named for his crooked body; proud and independent Negro who also is an outcast on the ranch; bitter against racial discrimination against him, but Lennie and Crooks accept each other as time goes on; also wants to join Lennie and George's dream

Curley: the evil son of the boss, Curley is a small, vicious bully who picks on those smaller than he is and attempts to intimidate those larger than he is

Curley's wife: the bitter wife of Curley attempts to seduce the ranch hands; she has a mean streak and is a vehicle for spreading evil

Themes:

The American Dream: George and Lennie dream to be able to own a place of their own and be their own bosses

Loneliness: Candy's only companion, his dog, is killed

Friendship: George shooting Lennie to help him escape from a brutal lynching

Innocence: Lennie's not understanding why he shouldn't enter Crooks' room

Discrimination: Crooks, as a ranch outcast, lives in a room all alone

The Plot:

The story opens with two traveling laborers, named George Milton and Lennie Small, on their way to a job loading barley at a California ranch. It is Friday evening, and they spend the night along the Salinas River before arriving at their new place of work, a ranch, the next morning. Here, the reader discovers the main personality differences between George and Lennie. Because Lennie is slow mentally, George acts as Lennie's guardian, taking care of the large child. They've been traveling together for a long time, since the passing away of Lennie's Aunt Clara. Also, it's stressed that Lennie's habit of petting soft things, such as a dead mouse or the dress of a woman, often gets them into trouble - forcing the two men to continuously have to find new work. Their dream is to own their own place and be their own bosses in the future. There, Lennie will be able to "tend to the rabbits".

Upon arriving at the ranch, they are met by an old man named Candy and his dog. It is Candy who explains to them the ways of the ranch and the personalities of the other ranch hands. Soon, the boss enters the cabin to visit with his new workers, quite angry that they had been too late for the morning shift. He asks both George and Lennie questions, which George proceeds to answer. Eventually, Lennie answers one question in his own, unintelligent way. George is angry, but the boss is a bit suspicious.

The reader also meets Curley's seductive wife. As usual, she is "looking for her husband" as an excuse to meet and attempt to seduce the other workers. Of course, George and Candy deny her attempts, but Lennie innocently defends her. As George warns Lennie to stay away from her, Lennie shows that he wants to leave, "It's mean here". George agrees to leave once they have enough money to attain their dream.

Slim enters and announces that his dog has had puppies. He discusses with Carlson the idea of killing Candy's old dog and replacing it with one of his puppies. In addition, George agrees to ask Slim if Lennie can also have one. Later, George confides in Slim his relationship with Lennie. He admits that Lennie isn't bright, but obviously a nice person. Lennie not only provides companionship, but makes George feel smart.

Carlson enters and continues to pressure Candy to allow him to kill his dog. Candy gives in when Slim joins in the argument. Later, he overhears George and Lennie talking about their dream and asks to be part of it, offering to advance half of the money they need. Finally, the dreams appears within reach.

Curley enters and begins to taunt and hit Lennie. Lennie, in turn, refuses to fight back until George tells him to. Lennie grabs Curley's hand and begins to flip him about, until he crushes Curley's hand by accident.

Later that night, while George and most of the other ranch hands are visiting a whorehouse, the outcast Lennie enters the room of the other outcast, Crooks. At first, Crooks objects to this invasion of privacy, but eventually Lennie wins him over. Crooks describes the difficulties of discrimination at the ranch, while Lennie speaks of the dream he, George, and Candy share. When Candy enters and speaks of his part attempting to make the dream a reality, then Crooks wants to join them. Curley's wife, looking for company, enters the room. Crooks and Candy argue with her, but she plays up to Lennie. She leaves when George enters the room. George, in turn is angry to know that another man, Crooks, has entered their dream.

The next afternoon, all of the trouble George predicted begins to come true. Lennie, by handling the puppy too much, has broken its neck. As he tries to hide the animal, Curley's wife enters the barn. She talks to Lennie about her life, seemingly seducing him. When she learns of Lennie's love for soft things, she invites him to touch her hair. He does so, but as always, holds on too tight. The woman begins to struggle and yell. Lennie panics, accidentally breaking her neck, just like his puppy.

After Lennie flees, Candy finds the woman's body. He gets George and asks for reassurance that their dream will still be fulfilled, even without Lennie. But, George has already forsaken the vision. He asks Candy to give him a few minutes head start before telling the others. In that time, he steals Carlson's gun - the same one used to kill Candy's dog. George reenters the barn with the others to discover the body and he attempts to convince the men that Lennie should only be put away because he meant no harm. But, Curley insists on lynching and they all go out to look for Lennie.

The final scene occurs at the same riverbank the book opened. Lennie has remembered to return there after he had gotten into trouble. Several visions taunt him, as he realizes the severity of his actions. Lennie asks George to "chew him out", but George does so only halfheartedly. They discuss their dream one last time....George shoots Lennie in the back of the head with Carlson's gun. The other men arrive, and George agrees with their version of the conflict between George and Lennie that brought about the shooting. The men return to the ranch, some sympathizing, some not.

Key Issues:

Loneliness: Throughout the novel, a main characteristic most of the characters contained was being lonely.

The American Dream: Everyone has a dream to strive for. The poor ranch hands wish to be their own bosses, and actually have stability.

Friendship: Every man needs someone to make him feel special.

Morals/Lessons/Applications:


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