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As migrant workers, George and Lennie travel from ranch to ranch looking for work. They are migrants because they do not have a home. They stay in temporary housing on the ranch as long as the job lasts, and then move on.
George and Lennie travel together, but many migrants went alone. It was a lonely life, and they rarely made enough money to settle down somewhere. George and Lennie have a dream of buying a farm to raise rabbits, but it is nothing but a dream because they are never able to save up enough money.
"O.K. Someday- we're gonna get the jack together and we're gonna have a little house and a couple of acres an' a cow and some pigs and-"
"An' live off the fatta the lan'," Lennie shouted. (ch 1)
As migrant workers, George and Lennie are always at the mercy of the ranch bosses and owners. Some are good, decent men. Others, like Curley, are trouble-makers. Migrants always had to watch their backs.
In the story, the Dust Bowl migration draws attention to the suffering that afflicted the working-classes during the Great Depression. George and Lennie's poverty-stricken and nomadic lifestyle is the direct result of the economic devastation caused by the dust storms. Additionally, the migrant experience highlights the powerlessness of men like George and Lennie during a period of extensive economic upheaval.
During the Dust Bowl exodus, almost 2.5 million people left the Plains states. Many of these people were migrant men in search of farm work, and most of these men ended up in California. In fact, Of Mice and Men begins with George and Lennie traveling to a California ranch for work. The migrant life was a lonely one, and George draws attention to this when he tells Lennie: "Guys like us, that work on ranches, are the loneliest guys in the world. They got no fambly. They don't belong no place..."
Additionally, many migrant men were housed in dilapidated shanties, huts, and makeshift barns. Living conditions were atrocious, and George and Lennie's experience bears this out. In Chapter Two, the men are received by Candy and Curley in the bunkhouse. Although the walls are whitewashed, and there are windows on the walls, the bunkhouse isn't an especially sanitary place. When George picks up a yellow can, he exclaims with dismay that it says, "positively kills lice, roaches, and other scourges." He demands to know what sort of beds he and Lennie will be sleeping on. Candy tries to reassure George, but the latter is initially skeptical that he won't get lice from the sleeping arrangements.
During the Great Depression, migrant workers earned meager wages and had few rights. When California farm owners struggled with falling production and higher taxes during the Great Depression, they simply paid their migrant workers less. Wages fell from 35 cents an hour in 1928 to only about 14 cents an hour in 1933. In Chapter Three, we get an idea of how little migrant workers earn when we listen in on the conversation between George, Lennie, and Candy. During the discussion, George mentions that, if he and Lennie don't spend their earnings, they will have a hundred dollars between them at the end of a month's work. All three men decide to pool their earnings in order to buy their own farm and land.
From the above examples , we can see that migrants had few channels to pursue their rights when it came to their wages and living conditions. They often lived at the mercy of ranch owners. The plight of migrants is further highlighted at the end of the story when George performs a mercy killing in order to spare Lennie a lynching. Today, Lennie would likely receive legal counsel and help for his predicament, but during the Great Depression, migrants had few rights. Lennie's death and George's subsequent grief highlights the brutality of migrant life.
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