The setting of Of Mice and Men is beautiful, the atmosphere is dark.
One of the most important elements of the book is the Great Depression and the impact it had on migrant farm workers. Therefore much of the story takes place on a ranch, or on the outskirts of the ranch. Steinbeck describes the setting in detail in the beginning of the book. He describes the Salinas River, and mentions rabbits and ranch hands.
The focus is on the rabbits when the main characters first arrive:
Evening of a hot day started the little wind to moving among the leaves. The shade climbed up the hills toward the top. On the sand banks the rabbits sat as quietly as little gray sculptured stones. And then from the direction of the state highway came the sound of footsteps on crisp sycamore leaves. (chapter 1)
As is not uncommon in Steinbeck novels, we are introduced to the land before the two men. Steinbeck describes both the men and their clothes in great detail.
Both were dressed in denim trousers and in denim coats with brass buttons. Both wore black, shapeless hats and both carried tight blanket rolls slung over their shoulders. (chapter 1)
Descriptions of the clothes help establish the setting as well. However Steinbeck interrupts the idealism with realism. The two men are arguing, and one is mentally challenged. In contrast with the idealistic description of the animals, Lennie kills a mouse by accident stroking it. When they discuss the rabbits, we learn that they are struggling financially.
Chapter 2 describes the ranch in detail as well, once again starting with the setting by describing the buildings. Then humans come into view, and George and Lennie are reprimanded for being late. In addition to the grumpy ranch hands, one of the first thing mentioned is poison, when George finds a yellow can.
“Says ‘positively kills lice, roaches and other scourges.’ What the hell kind of bed you giving us, anyways. We don’t want no pants rabbits.”
Throughout the chapter, the rough nature of the ranch continues to contrast with the beauty of the setting described in the beginning. Curley is the most dangerous element, and it’s clear foreshadowing that something will happen involving him.
George said, “Ya know, Lennie, I’m scared I’m gonna tangle with that bastard myself. I hate his guts. Jesus Christ! Come on. They won’t be a damn thing left to eat.”
This ends the chapter on yet a darker note, because we know that trouble is on the way.