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Of Mice and Men is a short novel set during the Great Depression (1930s). The story follows two main characters, Lennie Small and George Milton, as they travel from job to job as itinerant ranchers. It is a physically difficult job and tends to require workers to continually travel from one job to the next. So, George and Lennie are wanderers, looking for a stable place to settle down. The story begins in the Salinas River Valley (California). George has taken it upon himself to look after his unnaturally strong but mentally challenged friend Lennie. George is smart and direct. His quickness of mind and small features are in sharp contrast to Lennie who is large, shy, and socially awkward.
The first man was small and quick, dark of face, with restless eyes and sharp, strong features. Every part of him was defined: small, strong hands, slender arms, a thin and bony nose. Behind him walked his opposite, a huge man, shapeless of face, with large, pale eyes, and wide, sloping shoulders; and he walked heavily, dragging his feet a little, the way a bear drags his paws.
At the beginning of the story, George and Lennie have just run from a job because Lennie tried to pet a girl's dress and held on too tight after becoming agitated. Lennie's physical strength is useful for the ranching jobs he and George are employed in but it gets him into trouble. Lennie has the mind of child. He likes to pet soft things: mice, rabbits, and dresses. Not understanding his own strength, he can crush a mouse in his hands and also has the tendency to become violent when he finds himself in uncomfortable social situations. Lennie is innocent at heart but the combination of his simplistic mind and brute strength make him dangerous. It is all George can do to watch him like a hawk so such situations never occur.
The end goal for George and Lennie is to have their own farm: more chance to make a profit and a more stable lifestyle, less chance for Lennie to get into trouble. George is constantly on Lennie's case to behave himself and if possible not to talk to others. He does so not out of spite but to make sure Lennie doesn't get into any more trouble. However, George knows that life without Lennie would be easier on himself. Still, George perseveres and does his best to look after Lennie while pursuing the dream of owning their own farm. At the new job, Lennie has trouble fitting in. In the end, he gets into trouble as he always does and George is faced with a difficult decision of ending the cycle or of continuing to try and manage Lennie's and his lives together. Among other themes, this story is about friendship and the pursuit of an elusive dream during the Great Depression.
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