Of Mice and Men
|Media Type||Hardback & Paperback|
|ISBN||ISBN 0140177396, ISBN 0142000671, ISBN 0582461464|
Set in the Salinas Valley of central California during the Great Depression, John Steinbeck’s novella, Of Mice and Men, tells the story of two men, George and Lennie. During this time period, it was not unusual for men to travel from job to job as a result of the economic recession. However, it was unusual for two men to travel together.
Lennie is a large, strong man with the intellectual capabilities of a small child. He is often forgetful, but is capable of doing intense physical labor. Lennie was raised by his Aunt Clara, who looked after Lennie until her death. At that point, George, a childhood friend, takes responsibility for Lennie.
George and Lennie travel and work together for years before the novella begins. Their last job was in a town called Weed. One day, Lennie sees a girl wearing a red dress and decides to touch it. Lennie likes to pet soft things and has a history of killing the small animals he touches. The girl screams and Lennie freezes, holding her dress tighter. Eventually, George gets Lennie to let go of the dress. Lennie does not physically hurt the girl, but she tells the sheriff she has been raped. George and Lennie flee town.
Besides sharing a history, George and Lennie also share a dream of owning property and living off the fat of the land. While on the ranch, they share this dream with Candy, a swamper with only one hand and an old dog. After the mercy killing of his dog, Candy realizes that, like his dog, his usefulness on the ranch is nearing an end. He has some money and asks if he can join the two men to fulfil their dream.
However, life on the ranch is not easy. The boss’s son, Curley, takes an instant dislike to Lennie because of his size. Curley is a small man who likes to prove his worth by beating up large men, usually men who work for his father and cannot defend themselves out of fear of losing their jobs. Curley is unhappily married to a woman with a reputation for flirting with the ranch hands. After searching for his wife again, an angry Curley starts hitting Lennie, who does not fight back until George gives permission. Lennie then grabs Curley’s hand and crushes it, causing Curley to be rushed to the hospital.
Slim gives Lenny a puppy from his bitch's litter. However, Lennie kills the puppy, not realizing his own strength. He is in the barn burying the puppy when Curley’s wife approaches. She is lonely and desperate for attention. She allows Lennie to pet her hair, but screams at Lennie to stop when he begins to handle her too roughly. Lennie panics, shakes the woman, and snaps her neck.
Lennie flees the ranch and hides in the brush by the river bank as George instructs him in the beginning of the novella. Chaos ensues at the ranch when the body is found. Curley wants to lynch Lennie and make him suffer. George knows Lennie will suffer, no matter who finds him, and must make an agonizing decision. What would be best and most merciful for Lennie?
Major themes in the novella are loneliness as well as companionship, alienation, mercy, compassion, and the importance of dreams. The novel can also be read through a historical lens as a study of migratory workers during the Great Depression. This book, despite being written in 1937, remains controversial today because of the issue of euthanasia.
- 1 Major Characters
- 2 Chapter Summaries
- 3 Discussion Questions
- 4 Essay Questions
- 5 External Links
- Takes care of Lennie.
- Hard working itinerant ranch hand.
- Easily frustrated and angry, especially when he has to constantly explain the same things to Lennie over and over again.
- One of the few characters in the novel capable of learning. After he tells Lennie to jump into the river and he almost drowns George feels sorry for him, showing compassion.
- Childlike, simple, and easily forgetful.
- Becomes confused and freezes when in stressful situations.
- A large man who does not know his own strength.
- Likes to pet soft things.
- Dreams of tending rabbits.
- He only focuses on one subject.
- People get close to him because of his childlike nature but he is still physically a man and therefore is dangerous.
- Is often referred to as an animal through use of similes and similar devices, i.e "He dabbed his paw in the water".
- The lead skinner (mule driver) on the ranch.
- Does not speak often, but when he does, the other ranch hands listen to him.
- Frequently accused of improper conduct with Curley’s wife by Curley, which is false.
- Seen as a figurehead for the Working members of the ranch, Everyone, regardless of status respects Slim, including Curley and Carlson.
- Argued to be Steinbeck's idea of the perfect male
- Owns the old dog shot by Carlson.
- Lost his hand in a machine on the ranch.
- Offers money to George and Lennie so that they can all buy the dream property.
- Has been on the ranch for many Years
- Worries that he'll soon be 'canned', hence his desperation to join the dream.
- Candy regrets his inability to shoot his own dog later in the book.
- The stable buck and the only black person to live on the ranch.
- Lives in the harness room attached to the barn and does not socialize with the other ranch hands but sometimes plays Horseshoes with them.
- Casual references to Crooks as "The Nigger" and how at Christmas they beat him up and how funny it was. Gives a direct insight into the Americans view to blacks in the 1930s.
- While talking with Lennie, he attempts to draw comparisons between Lennie's mental helplessness with Crooks' racial helplessness.
- The boss’s son and an authority figure on the ranch.
- A small man who likes to pick on larger men who cannot fight back.
- Very aggressive towards Lennie.
- Accuses Slim of flirting with his wife, who he is always looking for.
- Slims exact opposite ( Eg. Slim is respected for his masculinity and his voice of reason where as Curley has to be respected for his authority through relation and by his viciousness).
- Arrogant and insecure
- Constantly shows off his wife, "glove fulla vaseline"
- Married Curley after her dreams of becoming a movie star are dashed.
- Does not like her husband because he is mean.
- Likes to dress up and wear make-up.
- Very flirtatious with the employees of the ranch.
- Lonely because no one will talk to her on the ranch.
- Uses the fact she has a husband as an excuse to gain attention from the men on the ranch, usually to by using her body and by flirting.
- Likes Candy
- Shoots Candy’s dog to put him out of his misery.
- Owns a Luger.
- Looks up to Curley.
- Your typical ranch hand, wants to keep his job and likes being more powerful then Candy.
- Tries to appease Curley and Slim, the two 'big men' on the ranch (excluding the boss)
Chapter One Summary
George and Lennie are traveling together on their way to work on a ranch near Soledad, California. The bus driver would not drive all the way to the ranch, and because of this, the men will arrive one day late for the job. They will have to camp out by the river bank overnight.
George is a smaller man, but a good worker. He is clearly in charge.
Lennie is a huge man and his mind is very childlike. He forgets things easily, which exasperates George, who has to spend a great deal of time explaining things to Lennie and reminding him of what he should know.
George notices Lennie is holding something and asks to see what is in his hand. Lennie tells him it is only a mouse. The mouse is dead. George throws the mouse away and asks Lennie why he wanted a dead mouse. Lennie says he only wanted to keep it in his pocket to pet. He says he likes to touch soft things.
George tells Lennie to be quiet while George talks to the ranch boss tomorrow. He doesn’t want Lennie to ruin the opportunity. He tells Lennie he doesn’t want anything bad to happen like what happened in Weed. The men worked on a ranch in Weed and were run out of town.
George says Lennie is a lot of trouble. He could have a nice life if he didn’t have to take care of Lennie.
Lennie finds the mouse and George throws it away again. He tells Lennie he will get him a live mouse. He knows Lennie broke the mouse’s neck by accident. This hints strongly towards later events, the 'accidents' get worse as the book progresses. Lennie does not know his own strength.
George begins to talk a little bit about how Lennie causes trouble. In Weed Lennie wanted to pet a girl’s dress because it was soft like a mouse. The girl jerked back, but Lennie did not let go of her dress. She thought she was being attacked. George and Lennie had to hide in an irrigation ditch because an angry mob was looking for them. This is why they were forced to leave Weed.
Lennie offers to leave George. George realizes he was being mean to Lennie. He apologizes and tells Lennie he wants him to stay. He promises Lennie he will buy him a puppy. Puppies are stronger than mice, and Lennie’s strong hands may not kill the dog.
George reminds Lennie of their dream. Someday, they want to own their own land. They plan to “live off the fatta the land”. Lennie’s favorite part of the dream concerns rabbits. While George farms, Lennie will tend the rabbits.
George reminds Lennie to be quiet tomorrow.
George instructs Lennie to hide in the brush by the river bank if he ever gets in trouble. Lennie is only to come out of hiding when George comes for him.
Chapter Two Summary
Lennie and George arrive on the ranch. The boss is angry because the two men did not arrive in the morning as scheduled. The boss’s son was so angry he took it out on the black stable buck. The man who shows them around the ranch, Candy, is missing his right hand.
The boss arrives to register the men. George does all the talking, until the boss notices and directly addresses Lennie. George still does the talking. The boss asks George what his interest is in Lennie. The boss thinks George is taking money from Lennie’s pay because Lennie is simple. George says he is Lennie’s cousin. The boss says he will keep his eye on the two men.
George yells at Lennie for talking when he was not supposed to talk. He notices that an old man with a mangy old dog eavesdropping. The man says he wasn’t listening. George notices the dog is old, smelly, blind, and can barely walk.
Curley, the boss’s son, enters the bunk house. He takes an instant disliking to Lennie because of his size. Curley has a long history of picking fights with big men. Curley is a small guy, and his temper is worse lately. He is newly married and very cocky about his marriage. George thinks Curley is showing off for his new wife. The man tells George that Curley always wears a glove on his left hand filled with Vaseline so that he can keep that hand soft for his wife.
The swamper tells George Curley’s wife is pretty, but she has a wandering eye. She’s been seen giving Slim, the jerk-line skinner, the eye. She has also given another man, Carlson, the eye. The swamper thinks Curley married a tart.
George tells Lennie to steer clear of Curley because Curley is looking for trouble. Lennie promises to stay away from him. George tells Lennie that if Curley hits Lennie first, Lennie can fight back with all he has. He then reminds Lennie to hide in the brush by the river bank if there is any trouble.
Curley’s wife enters the bunk house. She is wearing quite a bit of make up and a fancy dress. She says she is looking for Curley. She flirts a little with Slim when he arrives in the bunk house, but hurries away when Slim tells her Curley was heading toward their house.
Lennie tells George that Curley’s wife is pretty. George warns Lennie to stay away from Curley’s wife because she is poison. George calls her jail bait.
Slim is the most respected man on the ranch. He is a hard worker and a leader among the men on the ranch. He is soft-spoken, but his word is taken as authority.
Slim’s dog had puppies last night. Carlson says Slim should give Candy, the swamper, one of the new puppies. Carlson suggests Slim get Candy to shoot his old dog. The old dog has no teeth, is nearly blind, and cannot chew.
Lennie asks George if he can have one of the puppies. George promises to ask Slim about the puppies later.
Curley enters the bunk house again looking for his wife. He leaves angry.
Chapter Three Summary
While the other men are outside playing horseshoes, Slim and George are inside the bunkhouse talking about Lennie’s puppy. George thanks Slim profusely, but Slim says it really is not a big deal. George insists that it meant a great deal to both him and Lennie. George says Lennie is so excited he may try to sleep out with the puppies.
Slim talks about how happy he is with Lennie’s ability to do physical labor. George says Lennie cannot think for himself, but does an excellent job when he is told what to do.
Slim comments that it is strange that George and Lennie travel together. George asks what he means and gets defensive. George tells Slim he and Lennie grew up together in Auburn. Lennie’s Aunt Clara took Lennie in when he was a baby and raised him. George started looking after Lennie after his Aunt Clara died because Lennie was all alone.
George confesses that he used to be cruel to Lennie by playing jokes on him. Lennie was not aware George was playing jokes on him because Lennie is not smart. George also used to beat Lennie up, but despite Lennie’s physical advantage, he would never raise a hand to George. One day, George told Lennie to jump into the Sacramento River. Lennie jumped in and nearly drowned because he cannot swim. George saved him, and Lennie thanked him for saving him instead of being angry.
George talks about how he is alone with out Lennie while playing solitaire. He talks about other guys he has seen on ranches that do not have anyone. They get mean. He does not want to be like them.
George says Lennie is a nuisance, but he likes having him around. He says Lennie gets in trouble all the time because he is so dumb. He tells Slim about what happened in Weed. When Lennie gets scared, he freezes. Lennie was so afraid when the girl started screaming that he held on tighter. George had to hit him in the head with a picket fence in order to get him to let go. The girl told the police she was raped. A lynch mob was sent out for Lennie. George reassures Slim that Lennie never hurt the girl. He just wanted to touch her red dress.
Lennie tries to sneak the pup into the bunk house, but George makes him take the puppy back to his mother. George warns Lennie it could kill the pup.
Slim remarks Lennie is just like a kid. The only difference between Lennie and a kid is physical strength. George predicts Lennie will sleep in the barn with the puppies.
Candy, the swamper, enters the bunk house. He asks if they have whiskey because he is in pain. Carlson comes in and starts complaining about how badly Candy’s dog smells. Carlson tells Candy the dog is suffering and suggests Candy shoot the dog out of mercy. Candy says he can’t do it, and Carlson offers to do it himself. Carlson reminds Candy that he can have one of Slim’s puppies so he won’t be lonely. Slim agrees with Carlson. Candy finally agrees to let Carlson shoot the dog.
Crooks, the black stable buck, enters the bunk house. He tells Slim Lennie is out in the barn with the puppies.
The men talk about Curley’s wife again. They say she gives everyone the eye, even the black stable buck. She turns up every time the ranch hands are around because she can’t stay away from the guys. This makes Curley angry and looking for a fight.
Curley is looking for his wife again. Curley notices Slim is gone and asks where he is. George says Slim is in the barn fixing a split hoof. Curley storms off for the barn. The rest of the men go out to see if Curley and Slim fight. This leaves George, Lennie, and Candy in the bunk house.
George and Lennie talk about their dream again. George says he knows of a piece of land, but they have to save their money. He talks about the house, the orchard, and the animals they can raise. Candy speaks up and asks how much a place like that costs. George replies six hundred dollars and ask why Candy wants to know. Candy says that he isn’t much good around the ranch with only one hand. He has three hundred and fifty dollars and offers to go in with them.
Candy describes how he lost his hand. He knows he will be fired when he can longer swamp out the bunk house. He says they will do to him what they did to his dog. George eventually agrees to let Candy come in with them. They plan to leave in one month. They promise to keep the secret to themselves.
Candy says he should have shot his dog himself, not a stranger.
Slim and Curley enter the bunk house. Slim is sick of Curley’s accusations. The other men tell Curley to take care of his own wife. Curley picks a fight with Lennie. Lennie does not fight back until George tells him to get Curley. Lennie grabs Curley’s hand and squeezes hard. Lennie freezes again and George starts slapping Lennie until he lets go. Curley’s hand is broken. Slim tells Curley to say he got his hand caught in a machine, otherwise everyone will mock him. Curley promises not to tell.
Chapter Four Summary
Crooks is the only black man on the ranch, and he lives in the harness room attached to the stable. He is the only ranch hand who does not live in the bunk house. His body is bent over to the left because he has a crooked spine.
Lennie enters Crooks’ room and is told to get out. Nobody on the ranch visits Crooks. The other men in the bunk house won’t let Crooks in to play cards because they say he stinks.
Lennie forgets his promise and starts to tell Crooks about the rabbits.
Crooks tells Lennie that when he was a child, he was the only black child for miles. His father would not let him play with the nearby white children, so he got used to being alone.
Crooks asks Lennie what would happen to him if George disappeared. Lennie becomes upset. He tells Lennie if it weren’t for George, he would be in the loony bin. Crooks talks about his loneliness.
Candy comes in the stable to talk to Lennie about the rabbits. Candy tells them they are kidding themselves. Crooks becomes interested when he realizes the men have money in the bank. He offers to come with them
Curley’s wife enters the stable, looking for Curley. She observes that all the weak ones were left behind. The other men went into town. She says the men will talk to her one on one, but get angry with her if other men are around. She says the men are scared.
Crooks tells her to leave, and she talks about being stuck in the house with no one to talk to. She asks what happened to Curley’s hand. She knows someone hurt him.
Candy tells her he’s had enough and she’s not wanted there. Before she leaves, she asks Lennie how he got the bruises on his face. Crooks tells her she has no right to be in his room. She threatens to get him lynched if he ever talks to her like that again. She tells Lennie she’s glad he hit Curley. She leaves.
Crooks tells the men he does not want to leave with them.
Chapter Five Summary
Lennie is in the barn by himself, petting his puppy. He killed the puppy earlier by handling it roughly. He is afraid George will not let him tend the rabbits if he finds out about the puppy. Lennie buries the puppy under a mound of hay.
Curley’s wife enters the barn. She asks Lennie what is under the hay. He tells her the dog looked like it was going to bite him and he smacked it too hard.
Curley’ wife gets angry when Lennie tells her George told him not to talk to her. She doesn’t understand why the men treat her this way. She tells Lennie she could have been in the pictures. She was supposed to receive a letter from a man in Hollywood, but she never got the letter. She thinks her mother stole her letter and kept it from her. She says this is why she married Curley, who she claims she doesn’t like. She still dreams of being in Hollywood.
Lennie tells Curley’s wife he likes to pet soft things. She lets Lennie pet her hair until he starts to pet her too hard. She yells at him to let go, and Lennie panics. He holds one hand over her mouth and the other hand in her hair and shakes her until he breaks her neck. He covers her with hay just like the puppy. Lennie remembers George telling him to hide in the brush by the river bank if something bad happened.
Candy finds the body. He tells George.They fear Curley will kill Lennie brutally if he finds Lennie first. The other men are alerted of the murder. Curley vows to kill Lennie. George tells the men Lennie went south because they came from the north.
Carlson’s Luger is missing. Everyone thinks Lennie stole the gun. The men set off after Lennie.
Chapter Six Summary
Lennie waits for George by the river. He hallucinates and has a conversation with his Aunt Clara, who is dead. He is actually talking to himself. Aunt Clara yells at him for not listening to George, and she reminds him that George could have had a wonderful life if he did not have to take care of Lennie.
Lennie is still hallucinating, but now sees a gigantic rabbit. The rabbit tells Lennie that George will leave him and he will be all alone.
George finds Lennie. George tells Lennie to take off his hat and look across the river. He tells Lennie the dream again as he pulls out Carlson’s Luger. As the other men approach, George shoots Lennie in the back of the head.
When the men find them, George tells them Lennie had Carlson’s gun with him, and George took it away from Lennie and shot him.
Slim understands why George had to shoot Lennie. They decide to go get a drink with Slim.
===Chapter One Discussion Ques?
- How does what happened in Weed impact Georxdsge’s thinking?
Chapter Two Discussion Questions
- How do you feel about the way the men in the bunk house speak about Curley’s wife? Has she done anything so far to warrant this kind of attention?
- Consider how women are treated today, both in everyday life and in the media. Does this kind of “talk” still occur today?
- There are two clear leaders on the ranch, Slim and Curley. How do their leadership styles differ? Who do you feel is the more effective leader?
- Curley and his wife have been married for only a few weeks. How does Steinbeck show the reader their marriage is in trouble?
Chapter Three Discussion Questions
- Why do you think the girl in Weed claimed Lennie raped her?
- Candy says that he knows that when he can no longer work, he will be treated just like his dog. What does he mean by this? How is Candy like his dog?
- Why does Curley agree to lie about how he was injured? What does this say about Curley’s character?
- George and Lennie talk about their dream again. This time, Candy is brought into the dream. What does this dream mean to Candy?
Chapter Four Discussion Questions
- What does the location of Crooks’ room tell about how the others regard him on the ranch? Why do you think the other men do not visit him or allow him to visit them?
- Why does Crooks treat Lennie cruelly?
- How does the dream affect Crooks once he realizes the men have money in the bank?
- Besides racial prejudice, why does Curley’s wife speak so violently to Crooks?
- Why does Crooks change his mind about leaving with the men?
Chapter Five Discussion Questions
- How does Steinbeck use foreshadowing early in the book to allude to what happens in the barn?
- What is Curley’s wife’s dream? How did this dream impact her life? Do you feel this was a realistic dream?
- George says he knew the dream would never happen from the beginning, but kept repeating the dream for Lennie. Do you believe this is to be the truth?
- Curley’s wife does not have a name. She has no identity other than being Curley’s wife. Why did Steinbeck choose to do this?
Chapter Six Discussion Questions
- Why does Lennie hallucinate? What do we learn about Lennie from his hallucinations?
- Why does George lie about the gun?
- Slim tells George that he had to be the one to shoot Lennie. Do you agree or disagree?
- Was Lennie’s death a murder or an act of mercy?
- America is a country built by dreamers. However, the American dream has changed significantly throughout time. In your essay, describe George and Lennie’s dream. What does this dream say about them as people? Next, describe the new American dream. Has this dream changed? If so, how? What does the new American dream say about us as people?
- Loneliness is a recurrent theme in Of Mice and Men. Select three of the major characters and describe how loneliness impacts the character’s daily life and actions. Cite specific incidents from the novel to support your opinions.
- Both Candy’s dog and Lennie are shot in a similar fashion using Carlson’s Luger. Compare and contrast both deaths.
- What is the importance of dreams and dreaming to the success of "Of Mice and Men"?
- How does John Steinbeck explore the complex relationship between George and Lennie?