Steinbeck understood the transient nature of the men about whom he writes. Similar to the characters in the novel, Steinbeck took on odd jobs in order to continue to write. The need to work and sustain a life is something that his characters experience. With his own experience at working odd jobs and in a transient condition, Steinbeck understood how work, as a concept, can be both connected to loneliness as well as keep individuals distinct from it.
Steinbeck also understood the loneliness experienced by the migrant worker. Forced to go out in search of work, Steinbeck was becoming involved in the social and economic problems that were plaguing California at the time of the Great Depression. The migrant worker roamed from ranch to ranch, without much in way of union representation and collective identity. They were alone and lonely, and Steinbeck writes this into the novel's characters. The loneliness that Steinbeck saw as he was becoming increasingly involved in the plight of migrant workers in California operates as the basis for the characterizations offered in the text.