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.