Although in many ways little more than an extended short story, Of Mice and Men provides a vehicle for Steinbeck to focus on one of the oldest issues in human relationships: a person's responsibility for the welfare of fellow humans. The drifter George travels from job to job with the slow-witted Lennie, who depends on him to serve as both intermediary and protector in almost all social situations. Without stating his theme directly, the novelist presents through his characterization of Lennie a sensitive and revealing portrait of the plight of retarded individuals in a world where a lack of understanding of their special needs causes them to be misunderstood and at times reviled by others. Lennie is fortunate to have George serve as his protector, since most of the people with whom he comes in contact have little patience for his actions or sympathy for his seemingly anti-social actions. Even when his misguided actions lead to the commission of a crime, however, Lennie is treated with great compassion by George, whose views represent those of the novelist.
The story of drifters George and Lennie also highlights the plight of all people who search for a better life. The two have a dream with which many may identify: the wish to own their own land, be their own bosses, and control their own destinies. It is clear from the outset, though, that George and Lennie will never realize their dream; the foreshadowings of impending doom are present in the...
(The entire section is 604 words.)
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Idealism vs. Reality
Of Mice and Men tells the story of two simple men who try to escape homelessness, economic poverty, and emotional and psychological corruption. Otherwise, the fate of those who do not abandon the lives they lead as itinerant workers is bleak and dehumanizing. As George tells Slim, the mule driver "I seen the guys that go around on the ranches alone. That ain't no good. They don't have no fun. After a long time they get mean." George and Lennie dream of owning a farm, but by the end of the novel the dream has failed. Their plan is doomed because human fellowship cannot survive in their world and also because their image of the farm is overly idealized. It is likely that even if they had obtained the farm, their lives would not have been as comfortable as they had imagined; they would not have enjoyed the fraternal harmony that is part of their dream. In fact, their dream of contentment in the modern world is unpractical and does not accurately reflect the human condition. Crooks, the black stablehand, expresses his doubts about the dream. "Nobody never gets to heaven, and nobody gets no land. It's just in their head. They're all the time talkie' about it, but it's jus' in their head." Crooks is referring not only to literal ownership but to the dream of contentment about which these simple men fantasize. Implicit in the theme is the ironic idea that maturity involves the destruction of one's dreams. George "matures" by...
(The entire section is 1778 words.)