Form and Content (Masterplots II: Juvenile & Young Adult Literature Series, Supplement)
Of Mice and Men recounts the story of two itinerant ranch hands who, despite their apparent differences, are dependent on each other. Lennie Small, by far the better worker of the two, suffers not only from limited intelligence but also from an overwhelming desire to caress soft objects. These traits, combined with his uncontrollable strength, set the stage for disaster.
The fact that a disaster has not already occurred is largely the result of the vigilance of Lennie’s traveling companion, George Milton. Being aware of Lennie’s limitations, George does his best to keep Lennie focused on their mutual dream of owning their own spread, raising rabbits, and being in charge of their own lives. He also ushers Lennie out of town whenever the locals misinterpret his friend’s actions.
When the reader first encounters Lennie and George, they are setting up camp in an idyllic grove near the Gabilan mountains. It is lush and green and inhabited by all varieties of wild creatures. It represents, as the ensuing dialogue makes clear, a safe haven—a place where both humans and beasts can retreat should danger threaten. This setting provides author John Steinbeck with a context against which to portray the ranch to which George and Lennie travel the next day. The ranch, as he describes it, is a world without love and in which friendship is viewed as remarkable.
Steinbeck frames the desolation of ranch life by having George and Lennie comment on how different their...
(The entire section is 613 words.)
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Places Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Places)
*Salinas Valley (sah-LEE-nas). Rich agricultural region along north-central California’s Pacific coast in which the novel is set. Steinbeck grew up in the Salinas Valley and set much of his important fiction there and in the surrounding areas. In this short novel, his focus is comparatively narrow: All its action unfolds between the Salinas River, a single ranch, and the nearby town of Soledad. Although the backdrop of the story hints at social discontent—which is manifest in the dream of itinerant farmworkers George Milton and Lennie Small to own their own land—the book’s drama centers on the personal problems of the giant Lennie, who has a history of stumbling into serious trouble wherever he and George go.
*Salinas River. Stream next to which the story begins and ends. The novel opens as itinerant farmworkers George and Lennie are hunkering down beside the pleasant river, discussing the new ranch to which they are headed. They also talk about a little ranch they hope to buy for themselves, and the pastoral riverside location evokes Lennie’s wistful yearnings to raise rabbits and live “off the fatta the lan’.”
Fearing that the simple Lennie may get into trouble with their new employers, George makes him promise to return to this same spot by the river if something happens that forces them to flee the ranch. Later, Lennie accidentally kills a woman and comes back to the river, where George finds him before the rest of the ranch hands catch up with him. There, Lennie has a vision and then with George’s help, imagines the little place with rabbits, where there is no trouble. As George instructs him to gaze across the river and see the place with no trouble, he shoots Lennie with a pistol to prevent his being lynched by others.
Ranch. Salinas Valley farm on which George and Lennie take jobs as hands. George hopes only that he and Lennie can keep their jobs long enough to build up a cash stake that will help them buy a small farm for themselves. There is little description of the farm beyond its barn and the bunkhouse in which George and Lennie are quartered. They arrive during what appears to be a barley harvest—work at which the powerful Lennie excels. George and...
(The entire section is 946 words.)
Chapter 1 Questions and Answers
1. When George and Lennie approach the river, why does George warn Lennie not to drink too much water?
2. What has George told Lennie about that he always remembers even when he forgets everything else?
3. Why does Lennie have a dead mouse in his pocket?
4. Why does George order Lennie not to talk when they get to the ranch?
5. What happened to all of the mice that Lennie’s Aunt Clara gave him?
6. Why have George and Lennie run away from Weed?
7. What does Lennie want to eat with his beans?
8. Why does George say that migrant workers who travel from farm to farm are the loneliest people in the world?...
(The entire section is 326 words.)
Chapter 2 Questions and Answers
1. Where do the ranch hands keep their personal belongings such as soap, razors and magazines?
2. Candy, the old swamper who shows George and Lennie to their bunks, is missing what limb?
3. What evidence does the old swamper give that the ranch boss is a “pretty nice fella”?
4. What evidence is there that the boss is not a working man?
5. According to the old swamper, what is Curley good at?
6. According to the old swamper, why does Curley wear a work glove on his left hand?
7. What is the general attitude toward Curley’s wife?
8. Describe Slim, the jerkline skinner.
9. Why does Carlson...
(The entire section is 282 words.)
Chapter 3 Questions and Answers
1. Why does George say Lennie will want to sleep in the barn that Friday night?
2. According to George, how did he end up traveling with Lennie?
3. What happened that made George stop playing dirty tricks on Lennie?
4. Why did George and Lennie have to flee from Weed?
5. Who makes the final decision on whether or not Candy’s old dog should be shot?
6. What is significant about the letter Whit reads from the Western magazine?
7. Why does George agree to let Candy come with them to their dream farm?
8. Why does Curley attack Lennie in the bunk house?
9. Why does Curley agree not to get Lennie fired...
(The entire section is 420 words.)
Chapter 4 Questions and Answers
1. Why has Crooks been able to accumulate more personal items than the other ranch hands?
2. What reason does Crooks first give for Lennie not being welcome in his room?
3. According to Crooks, why does a person need a companion?
4. What is Crooks’s initial response to Candy’s account of the dream farm and what evidence is there that his attitude changes?
5. According to Curley’s wife, why are the men afraid to talk to her when there is more than one present?
6. Why doesn’t Curley’s wife like talking to her husband?
7. What reason does Candy give when he says that they are no longer afraid that Curley’s wife...
(The entire section is 439 words.)
Chapter 5 Questions and Answers
1. What has happened to Lennie’s puppy and why?
2. What two pieces of information does Curley’s wife share with Lennie?
3. Why does Curley’s wife offer to let Lennie caress her hair?
4. How and why does Lennie kill Curley’s wife?
5. Why does George say that they can’t let Lennie escape to live on his own?
6. What is Candy’s greatest fear?
7. When George asks Slim about just trying to catch Lennie instead of killing him, what advice does Slim give George?
8. What makes the men think that Lennie is armed?
9. Where does Curley plan to aim if he shoots Lennie?
10. Who stays with...
(The entire section is 296 words.)
Chapter 6 Questions and Answers
1. What scenes of death does Steinbeck describe in the beginning of Chapter 6 that parallel the events of the previous chapter and foreshadow the event to come?
2. How does the chapter bring the book full circle?
3. What two imaginary visitors does Lennie have while sitting on the river bank?
4. What is the subject of the conversation Lennie has with his first visitor?
5. What does his second visitor tell Lennie that recalls an earlier conversation he had with Crooks?
6. How is George and Lennie’s conversation similar to the one that they had by the pool in Chapter 1?
7. Where has George gotten the gun he takes from his...
(The entire section is 431 words.)
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Bibliography and Further Reading
Bibliography (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Benson, Jackson J., ed. The Short Novels of John Steinbeck: Critical Essays with a Checklist to Steinbeck Criticism. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1990. Contains Anne Loftis’ “A Historical Introduction to Of Mice and Men,” William Goldhurst’s “Of Mice and Men: John Steinbeck’s Parable of the Curse of Cain,” and Mark Spilka’s “Of George and Lennie and Curley’s Wife: Sweet Violence in Steinbeck’s Eden.”
Benson, Jackson J. The True Adventures of John Steinbeck, Writer. New York: Viking, 1984. Definitive biography calls Of Mice and Men’s popularity the turning point between...
(The entire section is 271 words.)