Of Mice and Men takes place over the course of only four days. George and Lennie arrive at the ranch, and only four days later George is forced to shoot Lennie after he accidentally kills Curley’s wife.
Steinbeck is very careful to establish the setting of the story. He repeatedly tells the reader what day it is, and what time of day. This is to establish that life can change fast, and the best laid plans of mice and men can go awry!
The story opens on the banks of the Salinas River near Soledad, California during the Great Depression. Two migrant workers, George and Lennie, are traveling to the ranch where they will begin working. When the book opens, it is “evening of a hot day” (ch 1, p. 1). George tells Lennie they will go to the ranch the next day.
The next day, the men arrive at the ranch and meet the interesting characters there. On the first day, they already run into problems with Curley, the boss’s son. They check in at noon on the twentieth of the month, and a Friday (ch 2, p. 11/24). They get teased for coming on Friday and having to work until Sunday.
Whit laughed. "Well, ya come on a Friday. You got two days to work till Sunday." (ch 2, p. 24)
Chapter 3 begins on the evening of their first day at work and the second day of the novel. This is when Curley and Lennie get into a fight, and Lennie breaks his hand.
Chapter 4 begins with Saturday night.
It was Saturday night. Through the open door that led into the barn came the sound of moving horses, of feet stirring, of teeth champing on hay, of the rattle of halter chains. (ch 4, p. 33).
Notice how similar the description of Sunday afternoon is in the beginning of chapter 5.
It was Sunday afternoon. The resting horses nibbled the remaining wisps of hay, and they stamped their feet and they bit the wood of the mangers and rattled the halter chains. (ch 5, p. 42)
Soon, Lennie accidentally kills Curley’s wife. Chapter 6 begins that same afternoon, 4 days later, when George shoots Lennie to keep him from killing anyone else.