In Steinbeck's marvelous novella, Of Mice and Men, the author employs setting to express his Naturalistic and Socialistic motifs.
Beginning and ending with the solitary path to the sandy banks of the river, Salinas (which means fortress), with a green (which connotes peace) pool in a clearing, Steinbeck creates a sort of Garden of Eden, halcyon in its appearance. There, the two friends share unabashedly their feelings as they are alone and the need to dissemble is not necessary as it is once they arrive at the bunkhouse. Outside Soledad, which means solitary suggesting the aloneness of the men, they revel in their fraternity.
But, like the Garden of Eden, evil lurks as in the final scene in which Lennie returns to the river seeking sanctuary, a snake sidles past him, an obvious symbol of the Eden's evil and the end of Lennie and dream for the two friends. Yet, despite what has occurred with the men, it is an indifferent nature to which Lennie returns. For, the rabbits and the heron are still in their places. Additionally, by repeating this scene at the end of his narrative, Steinbeck connotes the cyclical nature of the lives of George and Lennie, a desperate cycle of alienation in the desperate time of the Great Depression.
The setting of the bunkhouse is one in which the men are in conflict as well as one in which George and Lennie must be on guard as the alienated men are mistrustful of one another. In addition, Steinbeck uses this setting to portray the social inequities of society with Crooks segregated from the others, Candy threatened by his old age and disability, and Curley irrationally defensive of his position as the son of the boss, itching for a fight constantly because of his alienation from the other men.
The stable buck's room
Where Crooks, the black stable buck, stays in the barn is a completely isolated area. There Lennie, who represents the yearnings of all the dispossessed, enters and talks with Crooks who finally opens up his heart to the simple man. Crooks expresses the terrible isolation of men who have no one by whom to "measure" themselves. In this setting especially, Steinbeck expresses his motif of the importance of the fraternity of men.
As a shelter for animals, Steinbeck returns here to his Naturalistic motif as Lennie's animalistic characteristics lead to his unintentional act of murder as he strokes Curley's wife's hair too hard just as he stroked the newborn puppy too hard. This hollow location symbolizes the death of all the dreams of Lennie and George.
The shelter for animals is an appropriate setting for the climax and death of the dream as it has been animals such as the dead mouse, the dead dog of Candy and the dead puppy that have foreshadowed Lennie's, who is describes in zoomorphic terms--his paws--death.