Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

BACKGROUND

John Steinbeck was born in California in 1902. His books focus mainly on people who struggle to fit in. His most famous book,The Grapes of Wrath, earned him a Pulitzer Prize in Literature. He was also awarded the 1962 Nobel Prize in literature. Of Mice and Men is a story of friendship, hardship, and the American Dream.

MAIN CHARACTERS

Lennie Small: One of the main characters, he is a big, strong migrant worker who is basically retarded. He needs someone to take care of him. All he cares about is getting a farm where he can take care of some rabbits.

George Milton: George is like the opposite of Lenny. He is small and smart. George is a migrant worker too, and he looks after Lenny. He has big dreams of owning a farm one day, and "living off the fat of the land."

Slim: A tall thin guy who is really quiet. He is a Ranch hand on Curley’s farm, and everyone likes him because he’s a nice guy. Everyone listens to Slim and thinks of him as a wise man.

Carlson: A ranch hand who is the opposite of Slim. Carlson is a big fat guy who is a jerk. He’s really insensitive.

Candy: An old ranch hand who is missing a hand. Candy isn’t very useful on the farm anymore because he is so damn old. His best friend is his dog.

Crooks: A black guy who works in the stables. Crooks is an outcast and knows that people discriminate against him because he’s black.

Curley: The son of the boss, this guy is a big jerk. He’s mean to everyone and doesn’t pay attention to his wife at all.

Curley’s Wife: This woman is weak. She married Curley and stays with him even though he treats her like shit. She dresses up in sexy clothing and wears slutty makeup around the ranch workers.

The Boss: No, not Bruce Springsteen. This guy owns the ranch. He appears for a short while to talk with George and Lennie. He doesn’t look like the ranch hands since he dresses much nicer.

PLOT

These two migrant workers named George and Lennie, are on their way to a manual labor job at some ranch, and they stop to spend the night before their job starts. They have been traveling together for a long time, and Lennie is the mentally challenged one who always gets them into trouble. One thing that gets him into trouble is that he likes to touch soft things like animals, or a woman’s dress. He once touched a woman’s dress and they got fired from their job. So that night they eat dinner and George tells Lennie about the new job and how he shouldn’t do anything bad. Then Lennie talks about his dream of owning a ranch and tending rabbits. Throughout this whole book all Lennie talks about are tending to his damn rabbits.

The next day they go to the Ranch and meet Candy and his dog. Candy tells them about the ranch and what their jobs are. Then George and Lennie meet the boss. The Boss is mad that they missed the morning shift. George then lies to the Boss and tells him that they got wrong directions. The Boss talks to them and is very suspicious of Lennie because he appears to be a big idiot. George yells at Lennie later because he came across as a big idiot.

Then Curley (the son of the boss) walks in and meets the two guys. Curley tries to start a fight with Lennie. Then George tells Lennie to stay away from Curley. Then Curley’s wife walks in looking like a big whore. Nobody likes her except for Lennie. George tells Lennie to stay away from her, too. Lennie wants to leave because he hates the ranch but George wants to stay until they make enough money to buy their dream farm.

Then Slim walks in. He talks to Lennie and George about them traveling together then he tells everyone his dog just had puppies. Slim and Carlson talk about killing Candy’s old dog and giving Candy a puppy. Then George asks if Lennie can have one of the puppies.

Later that day Slim and George talk, and George tells him that Lennie is retarded and that he takes care of Lennie. Then when everyone is together, Carlson begs Candy to let him kill the dog because Carlson wants to. Carlson shoots the dog in the back of the head. Then Candy listens to George and Lennie talk about their plans for their dream ranch. Candy wants to be a part of it and offers them money for the project. Curley walks in and can’t find his wife. Curley sees big Lennie smiling (because he’s thinking about his damn rabbits) but Curley thinks that Lennie is making fun of him. So Curley starts to fight him and Lennie fights back and crushes Curley’s hand.

Later that night George and the others are at a local whorehouse. Back at the ranch, Lennie is talking to Crooks, the black guy, in Crook’s house. The Candy walks in and tells Crooks about Lennie’s "ranch dream." Then Crooks wants to be a part of it. Then Curley’s wife walks into Crooks’ place and talks to everyone. Then George comes home and is mad because Lennie told the others about their dream.

The next day, Lennie is handling the puppy, but because Lennie is big and doesn’t know any better, he accidentally breaks the puppy’s neck. Then Curley’s wife comes into the barn and finds Lennie trying to hide the dog. They talk and Lennie tells her he likes soft things. So she invites him to touch her hair. Once again, big, stupid Lennie touches her too hard, she screams and then in a panic he snaps her neck. Then Lennie runs. Candy finds the body and he and George talk about their dreams for a ranch. George steals a gun and goes looking for Lennie. Curley wants to lynch him but George wants to just have him killed painlessly.

Lennie returns to the river where they spent the night in the beginning of the book. George doesn’t yell at him too hard. They talk about the ranch and the rabbits one last time, then George tells Lennie to look across the river. Then George shoots him in the back of the head. When the others arrive they create a story of a struggle between Lennie and George. Then everyone goes back to the ranch.

CHAPTER BY CHAPTER

CHAPTER 1

  • The book starts at the bank of the Salinas River. The first chunk is all description of nature.
  • Then George and Lennie appear. Steinbeck describes these guys for a while.
  • They talk and we find out they have been traveling together
  • Lennie is a semi-retarded guy, and George is a smart guy who takes care of him like a brother or father.
  • They talk some more about a dead mouse Lennie has, and also about Lennie getting into trouble in the last town they were in. Lennie touched a girl’s dress and she yelled.
  • We learn they are heading to a ranch job, which starts the next day. So they decide to sleep in the woods before their job starts.
  • Then they talk about their dream of buying a ranch and tending to the animals..
  • They go to bed.

CHAPTER 2

  • George and Lennie arrive at the ranch in the morning. The ranch is a dump.
  • Candy (old man) greets the two and tells them the boss is mad at them for missing the morning work.
  • Candy shows them to their beds.
  • George doesn’t like his "bunk" cause he finds insect spray. Candy defends the quality of the beds.
  • Candy tells them about some of the ranch workers like Crooks and the Boss.
  • The Boss shows up and asks George and Lennie why they were late.
  • George answers all the questions because Lennie is slow and George doesn’t want the Boss finding out.
  • Lennie says something, and George gets mad at him. When the Boss talks to Lennie, George makes up some story about why they travel together.
  • Curley enters the bunk. He tries to pick a fight with Lennie but George stops it.
  • Curley’s wife walks in, looking like a whore. George knows she is trouble, especially because Lennie likes her. He tells Lennie to stay away from her.
  • Slim and Carlson enter. Slim tells everyone that his dog just had puppies.
  • George asks slim for a puppy for Lennie and then George and Curly almost fight.

CHAPTER 3

  • In the bunkhouse later in the day, George and Slim talk. George talks about his past with Lennie. We learn that Lennie is retarded, and after his Aunt Clara died, he traveled around with George.
  • George admits that one reason he’s with Lennie is because he feels smart.
  • Lennie walks in holding a puppy. George tells him to be careful with the delicate animal.
  • Carlson comes in and talks to Candy about shooting his old dog. He says it is to put the dog out of his misery but Carlson really wants to kill the dog because it smells.
  • Candy agrees to have the dog killed.
  • Whit comes into the bunk. He reads something from some magazine.
  • Curley comes in again, looking for his wife.
  • George talks to Lennie again about Curley’s wife. Then they talk about their dream ranch. Candy overhears, and wants to be a part of it.
  • Candy offers money for their investment.
  • Curley sees Lennie smiling and thinks he’s mocking him. Lennie is just smiling about his rabbits on his dream ranch. Curley wants to fight Lennie.
  • Curley starts hitting Lennie, and Lennie just sits there until George tells him to hit back.
  • Lennie grabs Curley’s hand and crushes it.
  • Slim tells Curley to tell the boss that his hand got stuck in a machine.

CHAPTER 4

  • George and the others play games and go to a whorehouse. Lennie visits Crooks.
  • Crooks lives on his own in the stables cause he’s a black dude.
  • Crooks is mad at first at Lenny for intruding but then they talk.
  • Lennie tells Crooks about his dream farm. Candy enters and they all talk about the dream farm. Now Crooks wants a piece of the action.
  • Curley’s wife comes into the barn and seduces Lennie. She just flirts with him, even though he’s big and ugly.
  • George returns from the whorehouse and is mad at Lennie for telling others about their dream ranch.

CHAPTER 5

  • Lennie is in the barn and accidentally kills his puppy because he holds it too hard. He doesn’t understand and he yells at the dog for getting killed.
  • Curley’s wife enters the barn and finds Lennie burying the puppy.
  • They talk, he tells her about the puppy and she tells Lennie how lonely she is, and about her pathetic life.
  • She is talking to him and they move closer to each other. He tells her he likes to pet soft things. She tells him to pet her hair.
  • He touches her to hard, she screams, he tells her to shut up and in a panic he snaps her neck.
  • Candy discovers the body and alerts George. But all Candy is concerned about is if he can still get the ranch with George since Lennie is out of the picture now.
  • The rest of the ranch guys show up at the barn and want to lynch Lennie. Carlson is really pissed cause his wife is dead, and he wants to shoot Lennie in the stomach.

CHAPTER 6

  • Lennie runs to the Salinas River where they were in the beginning. He is waiting for George.
  • Lennie sees a vision of his dead Aunt who tells him to go off by himself. Then he sees a vision of a rabbit that tells Lennie he should be beaten by George.
  • George shows up and the two talk about their ranch.
  • George tells him to look across the river to look at their ranch, and then when Lennie’s head is turned, George shoots him in the back of the head.
  • The other guys show up and George tells everyone he shot Lennie in self-defense (to save face).
  • Everyone returns to the ranch.

THINGS TO MAKE YOU LOOK SMART

  • George and Lennie search for the "American dream." The only reason they put up with all the crap that comes with working for other people, is that they hope to have their own ranch one day.
  • Steinbeck kinda makes everyone in the book look shady. Everyone has his or her own little problem and nobody trusts anyone else.
  • George and Lennie’s friendship is symbiotic – they feed off of each other. They kinda make up two halves of a person’s personality. Lennie is big, dumb, and violent. George is small and smarter.
  • Also they could represent Cain and Abel (from the bible). Cain was this dude who killed Abel and then denied it saying, "Am I my brother’s keeper?" In this book, George kills Lennie, who has been like a brother.
  • Did George help Lennie or hurt him? Perhaps George puts Lennie out of a life of misery – or, perhaps, the act was selfish.
  • Consider the parallel between the old dog that is shot in the back of the head and Lennie.