Arguably one of the great authors who has accurately and poignantly depicted in some of his works the desperation of the Great Depression and that of the lower class, John Steinbeck's characters in these novels do, indeed, "live lives of quiet desperation," as declared by Henry David Thoreau.
In his novella Of Mice and Men, a work that paved the way for Steinbeck's magnum opus, The Grapes of Wrath, the story of the "bindle stiff" is truly the story of lives filled with "quiet desperation." Even minor characters such as Curley's wife, Whit, and Carlson represent men who have no real future hopes.
His anxiety about his age and his disability cause Candy to live in desperate fear. When his old dog is shot because he is useless, Candy's worries are exacerbated, and it is with a desperate hope for the future that he begs to be part of George and Lennie's plans to have a ranch. Then, when Curley's wife dies, Candy despairs because he knows the plans are gone.
He looked helplessly back at Curley's wife, and gradually his sorrow and his anger grew into words. "You...damn tramp....You done it, di'n't you?....Ever'body knowed you'd mess things up...."
A woman who has no name but a genitive of her husband, Curley's wife has lived "a life of quiet desperation" because she knows of no other way to break from her small town with dead ends other than marriage. Unfortunately, she finds herself the lone female on an isolated ranch with no opportunities for any individualism, such as becoming an actress as she desires. Craving attention, she comes around the bunkhouse, an act that leads only to more desperation and tragedy.
A man with an intellect and talents, Crooks is marginalized because he is black. Consequently, he lives in the desperation of loneliness, without anyone by whom "to measure" himself, and without any hope of opportunity.
The mentally-handicapped man tries to act without getting into trouble, but he seems incapable of doing so. Consequently, he senses fear, and he is perplexed and frustrated--desperate--in his life that seems to spin out of control, no matter how hard he tries to obey George.
George Milton has a strong desire to control the fates of Lennie and himself. In this desire, he convinces himself that the dream of owning a farm may come to fruition, especially when Candy asks to enter into the plan. But, Lennie's fatal act destroys all the hopes of George and he becomes even more desperate in his life as he feels he must shoot Lennie in order to prevent the child-like man from enduring the torture of prison or the asylum.
George exemplifies the life of desperation with his actions as he leaves the barn after the other men arrive.
George stopped a moment beside Candy and they both looked down at the dead girl until Curley called...
George moved slowly after them, and his feet dragged heavily.
Certainly reflective of the setting of the Great Depression, Steinbeck's characters in Of Mice and Men exist in an environment of desperation.