Study Guide

Of Mice and Men

by John Steinbeck

Of Mice and Men Analysis

Form and Content (Survey of Young Adult Fiction)

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 lives are and having the other ranch hands comment on how unusual it is for two men to travel together. The hired hands have no personal stake in the ranch’s operation and, for the most part, no stake in one another’s well-being. Although they bunk together and play an occasional game of cards or horseshoes, each is wary of his peers. It is for this reason that Lennie and George’s friendship is questioned by everyone and why their dream of owning their own place is so infectious, especially to men such as Crooks and Candy, both of whom long to escape this loveless, isolated existence. Complementing this theme are the description of Candy and his dog and Crooks’s analysis of what it means to have a friend. Even Curley’s wife is used to reinforce the message. She is a woman who, despite her own dreams of grandeur, finds herself living on a ranch where she is perceived as a threat and an enemy by all the hired hands.

To underscore the situation, Steinbeck adopts restricted third-person narration and employs a tone that can best be described as uninvolved. His technique is an outgrowth of his desire to fuse dramatic and novelistic techniques into a new literary format, which he called the “play-novelette.” Accordingly, he relies on setting and dialogue to convey his message. For this reason, he begins each chapter with a compendium of details that allows readers to envision the scenes much as they might were they watching a staged presentation. Once he has outlined the surroundings, however, he steps away and relies on dialogue to carry the main thread of the story.

Significantly, Steinbeck begins and ends the novel at the campsite. This circular development reinforces the sense of inevitability that informs the entire novel. Just as Lennie is destined to get into trouble and be forced to return to the campsite so, too, will George be forced to abandon the dream of owning his own farm. Instead, he will be reduced to the status of a lonely drifter, seeking earthly pleasures to alleviate the moral isolation and helplessness that Steinbeck suggests is part of the human condition.

Of Mice and Men Places Discussed (Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

*Salinas Valley

*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

*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

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 Lennie establish a pleasant camaraderie with some of their bunkmates, so their immediate prospects seem favorable. Such trouble as arises comes from the owner’s family: his belligerent son who unwisely taunts Lennie into a pointless physical confrontation, and the son’s wife, whose coquettish flirtation with the man who humiliates her husband results in both her and Lennie’s deaths. Although George and Lennie’s troubles have little to do with broader labor problems, it is significant that their downfall is brought on by representatives of landowners.

Crooks’s room

Crooks’s room. Quarters of Crooks, the ranch’s African American cook, who has been living apart from the main bunkhouse through the many years he has worked on the ranch. Although forced to live alone because he is black, he has the ironic privilege of being the only hand on the ranch to enjoy true privacy. He hungers for company other than his books but has never admitted another hand into his room before the night in which Lennie wanders in to pay a friendly call. When another veteran ranch hand, Candy, soon follows, Crooks grudgingly allows the intrusions but secretly relishes having human company, even if it consists only of two fellow pariahs—a dimwit and a crippled amputee. Crooks’s hunger for companionship comes to the surface when he begs to be allowed to join Lennie, Candy, and George’s plan to live on a ranch of their own. In another of the book’s little ironies, its sole African American character also appears to be the ranch’s only hand who was once a member of a family that owned its own land.

*Weed

*Weed. Small Northern California farming town, about 330 miles north of Salinas, from which Lennie and George were run out immediately before the narrative begins. Although George is afraid that he and Lennie will lose their new jobs if anyone at the Salinas ranch finds out why they left Weed, he tells his guilty secret to the skinner Slim. Mentioned several times throughout the novel, Weed is an icon of George and Lennie’s perpetual failure to find stable work and homes, as well as an example of the great distances farm hands must travel to find work.

Imaginary farm

Imaginary farm. Ten-acre plot of farmland that George hopes to buy for himself and Lennie from an elderly couple whom he knows. Though a real place, the farm is appropriately at an unspecified remote location—a place “you couldn’t find in hundred years.” The chances of George and Lennie ever actually owning the place are so slim that it may as well be the farm existing in Lennie’s simple imagination: an idyllic place with abundant crops, rabbits, and other animals that Lennie will tend, and no trouble.

So as not to jeopardize their employment on the Salinas ranch, George repeatedly instructs Lennie not to mention the farm to anyone else. However, Lennie can not stay silent, and each ranch hand whom he tells about the farm wants to be a part of it. George and Lennie’s quest to live on a place of their own is the dominant motif through the novel, so it is fitting that Lennie is imagining life on the farm at the moment George shoots him, thereby ending that dream for everyone.

Of Mice and Men Historical Context

Migrants in Oregon, c. 1880 Published by Gale Cengage

Agriculture during the Great Depression
During the late 1930s, California was struggling not only with the economic...

(The entire section is 934 words.)

Of Mice and Men Setting

The action takes place in the 1930s on a ranch in the Salinas Valley in California. The novel opens with the major characters, George Milton...

(The entire section is 140 words.)

Of Mice and Men Quizzes

Chapter 1 Questions and Answers

Study Questions
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

Study Questions
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

Study Questions
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

Study Questions
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

Study Questions
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

Study Questions
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.)