Study Guide

Of Mice and Men

by John Steinbeck

Of Mice and Men Summary

Overview

Of Mice and Men

Summary of the Novel
Before reporting for work, migrant workers George Milton and Lennie Small spend the night on a peaceful riverbank. For the second time, George has to take away a dead mouse that Lennie has been petting. He consoles Lennie by recounting the story of their dream farm where Lennie will tend rabbits.

Before retiring, George tells Lennie to remember this place by the river, because if Lennie ever gets into trouble he must return here and hide in the brush until George comes for him.

Friday, in the ranch’s bunkhouse, the men meet Candy, the old, crippled swamper; the boss’s arrogant son, Curley, who is always ready to fight; and Curley’s new wife, who is pretty and flirtatious.

Also entering the bunkhouse are Slim, an experienced and respected work-team leader, and Carlson, a ranch hand. Both men are friendly and welcome George and Lennie to the ranch.

Friday night, after a half day’s work, Lennie goes to the barn to visit the puppy Slim has given him. Back in the bunkhouse, George confesses to a sympathetic Slim that they left their previous job because Lennie was accused of attacking a girl.

Later that evening, when Candy’s dog, lame and blind with age, enters the bunkhouse, Carlson suggests that Candy shoot it to put it out of its misery. Candy reluctantly agrees to allow Carlson to shoot the dog with his Luger pistol. Though deeply saddened at the death of his longtime companion, Candy says later that he should have shot his dog himself, instead of letting a stranger do it.

Sitting in the bunkhouse, George and Lennie again talk of their dream farm. Listening quietly, old Candy offers his life’s savings, half of the money they will need to buy the farm, if he can become a partner in their dream.

Curley and Slim return to the bunkhouse, arguing about Curley’s wife. Curley sees Lennie smiling and accuses Lennie of laughing at him. He punches Lennie without retaliation. When George finally gives the word, though, Lennie catches Curley’s hand and crushes it.

Saturday night, while the others are in town, Lennie wanders into Crooks’s room, where Crooks tells Lennie of his loneliness. After Candy joins them, Curley’s wife comes in. When they try to get her to leave, she professes her own loneliness and makes a deliberate attempt to talk to Lennie, but she is driven away by the return of the other ranch hands.

The next day, Sunday, Lennie returns to the barn to pet his puppy. Curley’s wife comes in, talks to Lennie, and lets him caress her hair. When she tries to make him stop, he panics and accidentally breaks her neck. Realizing she is dead, Lennie flees.

Candy and George discover the body of Curley’s wife, and they know the other men will want Lennie lynched. As the men are preparing a search party, Carlson announces that his gun is missing. In spite of George’s insistence that Lennie would never kill on purpose, the men want Lennie shot on sight.

At the riverbank awaiting George, Lennie is confronted with images of his dead aunt and a giant rabbit, both chastising him for disappointing George. When George arrives, he comforts his friend. As he hears the others nearing, he helps Lennie imagine, for the last time, their dream farm. With great difficulty, he places Carlson’s revolver at the back of Lennie’s head and pulls the trigger.

Only Slim understands what has happened. He comforts George and reassures him that this was what he had to do.

Estimated Reading Time

Of Mice and Men is one of Steinbeck’s short novels. It is only six chapters long, and about one hundred pages. It reads rather quickly, and it should take the average reader fewer than four hours to complete.

The novel can be divided into four sections, corresponding to the four days entailed in the plot, with each section taking place on a different day. Chapter 1 takes place on the Thursday night the men spend by the river. Chapters 2 and 3 cover Friday. Chapter 4 occurs on Saturday night. Chapters 5 and 6 contain the events of Sunday.

Of Mice and Men Summary (Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Late one hot afternoon, two men carrying blanket rolls trudge down the path that leads to the bank of the Salinas River. One man, George Milton, is small and wiry. The other man, Lennie Small, is a large, lumbering fellow whose arms hang loosely at his sides. After they drink at the sluggish water and wash their faces, George sits back with his legs drawn up. Lennie imitates him.

George and Lennie are on their way to a ranch, hired to buck barley there. Lennie had cost them their jobs at their last stop in Weed, where he was attracted by a woman’s red dress. He had grabbed at her clothes. He became frightened by her screaming and then would not let go of her; George was forced to hit him over the head to make him let go. They ran away to avoid a lynching.

After George lectures his companion about letting him talk to their new employer when they are interviewed, Lennie begs for a story he has already heard many times. It is the story of the farm they would own one day. It would have chickens, rabbits, and a vegetable garden, and Lennie would be allowed to feed the rabbits. The threat that Lennie would not be allowed to care for the rabbits if he does not obey causes him to keep still when they arrive at the ranch the next day. In spite of George’s precautions, their new boss is not easy to deal with. He is puzzled because George gives Lennie no chance to talk.

While the men are waiting for the lunch gong, the owner’s son, Curley, comes in, ostensibly looking for his father, but actually to examine the new men. After he leaves, Candy, the swamper who sweeps out the bunkhouse, warns them that Curley is a prizefighter who delights in picking on the men and that he is extremely jealous of any attention given to his slatternly bride.

Lennie has a foreboding of evil and wants to leave, but the two men have no money with which to continue their wanderings. By evening, however, Lennie is happy again. The dog belonging to Slim, the jerkline skinner, had pups the night before, and Slim gave one to simpleminded Lennie.

Slim is easy to talk to. While George plays solitaire that evening, he tells his new friend of the incident in Weed. He has just finished his confidence when Lennie comes in, hiding his puppy inside his coat. George tells Lennie to take the pup back to the barn. He says that Lennie will probably spend the night there with the animal.

The bunkhouse had been deserted by all except old Candy when Lennie asks once more to hear the story of the land they would some day buy. At its conclusion, the swamper speaks up. He has $350 saved, he says, and he knows he will not be able to work many more years. He wants to join George and Lennie in their plan. George finally agrees, for with Candy’s money they will soon be able to buy the farm they had in mind.

Lennie is still grinning with delighted anticipation when Curley comes to the bunkhouse in search of his wife. The men had been taunting him about her wantonness when he spies Lennie’s grin. Infuriated with the thought that he was being laughed at, Curley attacks the larger man. Lennie, remembering George’s warnings, does nothing to defend himself at first. Finally, he grabs Curley’s hand and squeezes. When he lets go, every bone has been crushed. Curley is driven off to town for treatment, with instructions from Slim to say that he had caught his hand in a machine. Slim warns him that the humiliating truth will soon be known if he fails to tell a convincing story.

After the others start to town with Curley, Lennie leaves to talk to Crooks, the black stable buck, who has his quarters in the harness room instead of the bunkhouse. Crooks’s coolness quickly melts before Lennie’s innocence. While Lennie tells Crooks about the dream of the farm, Candy joins them. They are deep in discussion when Curley’s wife appears, looking for her husband. The story about her husband and the machine does not deceive her, and she hints that she is pleased with Lennie for what he has done. Having put an end to the men’s talk, she slips out noiselessly when she hears the others come back from town.

Lennie is in the barn petting his puppy. The other workmen pitch horseshoes outside. Lennie does not realize that the puppy is already dead from the mauling he had innocently given it. As he sits in the straw, Curley’s wife comes around the corner of the stalls. He does not speak to her at first, afraid that he will not get to feed the rabbits if he does anything wrong, but the woman gradually manages to draw his attention to her and persuades him to stroke her hair. When she tries to pull her head away, Lennie holds on, growing afraid as she tries to yell. Finally, he shakes her violently and breaks her neck.

Curley’s wife is lying half-buried in the hay when Candy comes into the barn in search of Lennie. Finding Lennie gone, he calls George, and while the latter leaves to get a gun, the swamper spreads the alarm. Carrying a loaded shotgun, Curley starts off with the men, George among them. It is George who finds Lennie hiding in the bushes at the edge of a stream. Hurriedly, for the last time, he tells his companion the story of the rabbit farm, and when he finishes, Lennie begs that they leave at once to look for the farm. Knowing that Lennie cannot escape from Curley and the other men, George puts the muzzle of his gun to the back of his friend’s head and pulls the trigger. Lennie is dead when the others arrive.

Of Mice and Men Summary (Masterpieces of American Literature)

The original manuscript of Of Mice and Men suffered a fate that gives writers nightmares: When Steinbeck and his wife were out one night, their dog, Toby, tore the first half of the finished manuscript to shreds. It was Steinbeck’s only copy, so he had to rewrite half of the book. Steinbeck gave the dog meager punishment and said that he had a certain respect for the beast’s literary judgment.

The book is one of Steinbeck’s warmest. Lennie, a migrant ranch hand, is mentally retarded. George, also a migrant ranch hand, travels with him and looks after him. The story opens and ends on a riverbank off the main road, separated from the world of machines and impersonal technology. It is to this place that George tells Lennie to return in case of trouble. As in many of Steinbeck’s novels, this riverbank, and the cave in which Lennie suggests that he and George might live away from the world, is a back-to-the-womb motif.

Lennie is large and strong. He likes soft, furry things. He likes them so much that he sometimes crushes the life out of them accidentally in showing his affection. He keeps mice in his pocket, but they do not survive his attention. Lennie lives on dreams. He longs for the day that he and George will own a little land and a house, a place where they can hide from a world that Lennie does not understand and that George does not trust. George and Lennie are different from the other ranch hands because they have each other. They conceive of a future and harbor dreams because they think that they will always be together. Their symbiotic relationship humanizes some of the other ranch hands with whom they work.

The ranch owner’s son, Curley, however, is not among those humanized by George and Lennie’s presence. Curley has his own problems. He is a lightweight fighter, a combative sort who resents being small but resents even more people who are larger than he. Lennie is a perfect target for his aggressions. He provokes Lennie into a fight in which he bloodies Lennie’s nose, but Lennie crushes Curley’s hand.

Curley’s other major problem is his wife, who remains unnamed in the story. Her fidelity to Curley is questionable, and she is called a “tart” by the ranch hands. While the men are elsewhere, Curley’s wife finds Lennie in the barn and coaxes him to pet her hair. Lennie’s fondness for soft, furry things makes him vulnerable. He strokes her hair to the point that she becomes alarmed and panics. When she does, Lennie breaks her neck.

Doing as he has been told, Lennie returns to the safety of the riverbank. He asks George to recite for him the details of how they will stay together, buy a small spread, and live out their lives happily. George, realizing that Curley will capture Lennie and make him die painfully for what he has done, puts a bullet through Lennie’s head as Lennie looks out into the distance, where he envisions the future George is reciting to him.

The novel was unique in that it consisted largely of dialogue and was written so that it could also, with almost no adjustments, be acted on stage. Its popularity, particularly its acceptance as a Book-of-the-Month Club selection, surprised Steinbeck, who did not look upon the book as very significant. The original title, Something That Happened, reflects Steinbeck’s objectivity in presenting his story; he makes no moral judgments about George and Lennie nor about the other ranch hands.

Of Mice and Men Summary

Of Mice and Men opens with a physical description of the topography of the Central Valley of California. "A few miles south of...

(The entire section is 1472 words.)

Of Mice and Men Summary and Analysis

Chapter 1 Summary and Analysis

New Characters
George Milton: migrant worker who cares for Lennie Small

Lennie Small: mildly retarded migrant worker, George’s companion

Summary
Following a worn path from the highway, George Milton and Lennie Small come upon the peaceful banks of the Salinas River and stop to rest. After drinking from the river, George reminds Lennie of their destination, a ranch just up the highway where they will work bucking barley.

Sitting in this haven along the banks of the river, George notices Lennie has something in his pocket. When he makes Lennie give it to him, he discovers it is a dead mouse. Lennie says he has been petting it as they walked along....

(The entire section is 2187 words.)

Chapter 2 Summary and Analysis

New Characters
Candy: the one-handed ranch custodian

The Boss: runs the barley farm

Curley: the boss’s newly married, hot-headed son

Curley’s wife: the pretty, flirtatious, unnamed wife of Curley

Slim: a jerkline skinner, the respected authority on the ranch

Carlson: an experienced ranch hand

Summary
Chapter 2 takes place in the bunkhouse of the barley ranch on Friday morning. George and Lennie enter the bunkhouse behind Candy, the old crippled swamper, an unskilled laborer who cleans up the bunkhouse. He shows them to their two beds and tells George and Lennie about the ranch, about the boss, and about Crooks,...

(The entire section is 2608 words.)

Chapter 3 Summary and Analysis

New Characters
Whit: one of the common farm hands who also lives in the bunkhouse

Crooks: a stable hand

Summary
Later that same Friday, Slim and George return to the bunkhouse. Outside the other men play horseshoes, while inside Slim and George discuss Lennie. According to George, he and Lennie were born in the same town. George knew Lennie’s Aunt Clara who had raised Lennie from infancy. When she died, George became his caregiver. George denies that Lennie is dumb, saying instead that he is simple. He confesses that he played tricks on Lennie in the past but stopped when he realized Lennie’s loyalty was so strong that he would do anything George required....

(The entire section is 2102 words.)

Chapter 4 Summary and Analysis

Summary
Chapter 4 takes place on the following Saturday night. It is set in the tidy room of Crooks, the Negro stable buck, who tends to the horses and mends the leather items used with the animals. His room, a shed built against the wall of the barn, is decorated in much the same way as the bunkhouse, except he keeps in his room his leather working tools and medicines. His room also contains more personal items, including books. He has a dictionary and a copy of the California civil code. Crooks is himself crooked, bent to the left by a crooked spine. Steinbeck describes him as a “proud, aloof man,” who keeps his distance and demands that the others on the ranch keep theirs.

Crooks is sitting...

(The entire section is 2082 words.)

Chapter 5 Summary and Analysis

Summary
Chapter 5 takes place in the barn on the following Sunday afternoon. As the men are playing horseshoes outside, Lennie sits alone in the barn. He is thinking and worrying about his dead puppy, upset that he accidentally killed it even though he didn’t bounce it very hard. He debates with himself over whether this is a bad thing. It is not bad enough to mean he must go and hide at the clearing, but it may be bad enough to make George so mad he won’t let Lennie tend the rabbits when they buy their ranch. Deciding that George will be angry, he throws the puppy across the barn. Shortly thereafter he retrieves the puppy and buries it in the hay.

When Curley’s wife comes into the barn,...

(The entire section is 1930 words.)

Chapter 6 Summary and Analysis

Summary
This final chapter takes place where the first chapter began, at the green pool of the Salinas River in the late afternoon. As before, Lennie comes to the sandy clearing and goes to the pool to drink.

Sitting on the bank Lennie begins to hallucinate and he talks to his dead Aunt Clara who had raised him. She scolds him, saying the same things George has always said to him at such times. When she disappears, a gigantic rabbit takes her place. It tells Lennie that he isn’t worthy of tending rabbits. It tells him that George is going to beat him and leave him. When George comes out of the brush, the rabbit too disappears.

Lennie, at once, confesses that he has done a bad thing...

(The entire section is 1071 words.)