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The social and economic situation that George and Lennie experience in Of Mice and Men is reflective of the challenges many faced in 1930s America.
George and Lennie live the life of "bindle stiffs." In chapter 4, Curley's wife encounters Lennie, Candy, and Crooks while the rest of the men on the ranch have gone into town. She summarizes their social situation succinctly:
"—Sat’iday night. Ever’body out doin’ som’pin’. Ever’body! An’ what am I doin’? Standin’ here talkin’ to a bunch of bindle stiffs—a nigger an’ a dum-dum and a lousy ol’ sheep—an’ likin’ it because they ain’t nobody else."
As "bindle stiffs," the men on the ranch move from place to place carrying all of their belongings in a bundle. Roaming from job to job, they live a transient life. Bindle stiffs were seen as the lowest in the social hierarchy because of their impermanent condition.
George and Lennie move from job to job in the hopes of "making a stake." This is reflective of life in 1930s America. There was massive unemployment across the nation. In this world, men had to move from place to place to find work. As bindle stiffs who don't have anything that is "theirs," George and Lennie occupy some of the lowest terrain in the American social situation. This translates into how they are treated disrespectfully from those with a modicum of power. The bus driver, the boss, and Curley are individuals who possess power over George and Lennie and mistreat them because they are seen as "bindle stiffs."
Part of the reason George and Lennie are perceived as bindle stiffs is because of their economic situation. They are poor. The opening chapter when George becomes angry at Lennie is one instance of this poverty. Lennie wants ketchup with his beans. Both men are so financially challenged that ketchup on beans is perceived as a luxury. Another example of their impoverished condition occurs in Chapter 2 when George objects to having to sleep on a mattress that has been treated for an infestation of insects.
The life George and Lennie live is filled with economic hardship. Their dream, which is all-encompassing for them, is really quite meager. They dream of having their own farm. George wants to be his own boss and Lennie simply wants to tend rabbits. Such a dream is a reflection of their dire economic condition. Steinbeck creates a world where dreams are the opposite of the life one leads. Both men dream of having "something" because in the world in which they live, they have next to nothing.
The only thing of value that both possess is one another. When Lennie exclaims to George in the repetition of the familiar story, "I got you and you got me," it is a reminder of how little both have economically and socially. This becomes a statement of both men's economic and social situations relative to the world around them in Of Mice and Men.
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