John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men is a tightly-structured work; its six chapters serve as six scenes which are paired to make three acts. The pattern of these scenes is balanced and composed to support both the development of plot and themes.
There are a fairly small number of characters in Of Mice and Men, and the action takes place mostly on the ranch. Each chapter has entrances and rising action at the beginning. As the scene ends, the action falls and characters exit.
This balance of scenes occurs as the beginning and final scenes are set in the clearing outside of Soledad. Then the middle four scenes are paired with one another in sharing the same settings of the bunkhouse (Scenes 2 and 3), and the barn (Scenes 4 and 5). George and Lennie's dream to own their own land is mentioned in every chapter.
In both these scenes, there is an incident in which Lennie unintentionally harms a young woman. Because he risks being jailed if caught, he must flee for his own safety.
In Scene One, George and Lennie enter the clearing after fleeing their jobs in a town named Weed. They camp in the clearing for the night prior to going to work on the ranch a few miles away so they can rest one night before they begin hard labor. While they camp, George and Lennie recite their plans and dream of owning a small ranch. Also, George advises Lennie,
"Well, look. Lennie—if you jus' happen to get in trouble like you always done before, I want you to come right here an' hide in the brush."
"Hide in the brush," said Lennie slowly.
In Scene Six, Lennie does hide near the clearing where he and George camped earlier. He waits for George obediently, but is worried because he knows he has done "a bad thing."
When George arrives, the child-like Lennie asks if George is going to scold him like he has before. He repeats George's words from Scene One, during which George said if he lived alone he could do other things and have a girl. George is amazed Lennie can remember such things while still committing the same dangerous acts as though he remembers nothing.
Once more, George recites their dream for Lennie before killing him so he is not caged like an animal.
In these paired scenes, many of the conflicts introduced into the action and dialogues take place in the bunkhouse.
In Scene Two, George and Lennie arrive and George converses with the old swamper Candy, who informs him about some of the men. Then, Curley enters in a belligerent manner and appears antagonistic toward Lennie. After he leaves, George advises Lennie to stay away from Curley, but if Curley hits Lennie first, George instructs Lennie to "let 'im have it."
Shortly after this incident, Curley's wife stands seductively in the doorway and speaks in a playful manner. When Slim, the "jerkline skinner" enters, she pretends she is looking for Curley and slips away. After she departs, George warns Lennie to avoid her because she is "jail-bait."
In Scene Three, more characters are introduced. Slim, a tall man with "god-like eyes," enters the bunkhouse and talks warmly with George while they play cards. This is Slim, who invites George's confidence, prompting George to reveal a lot about himself and Lennie. Soon, a brutish Carlson enters; he offers to shoot Candy's old dog and companion, who is arthritic and smelly. As consolation, Slim offers Candy one of the puppies his dog has recently whelped. He also remarks,
"That dog ain't no good to himself. I wisht somebody'd shoot me if I got old an' a cripple."
Candy looked helplessly at him, for Slim's opinions were law. "Maybe it'd hurt him. . . I don't mind takin' care of him."
Carlson insists, though, saying one bullet will instantly and painlessly kill the dog. Looking around, Candy receives no support from any one; as a result, he must surrender his dog. This incident foreshadows what happens in Scene Six.
Later on, Curley returns to the bunkhouse and is confrontational with Lennie, who responds by severely damaging Curley's hand.
Later, there is another suggestion of George and Lennie's dream that is mentioned in Scene One when George tells Whit that he and Lennie are going to "put up a stake." After some time, Lennie asks George to repeat the dream speech and Candy overhears them. He offers to contribute $300 (his compensation for losing his hand in a machine) if George will let him join them. At this point, George begins to believe the ranch may be a real possibility.
More character development occurs in these scenes. New conflicts are introduced. These conflicts underscore the theme of loneliness and alienation. Also, there is the theme of the small, powerless man in a large world, illustrated by the character of Crooks.
In Scene Four, Lennie makes another visit into the barn to pet the little puppy Slim gave him, and this time he sees Crooks in his room. Because he is black, Crooks must live alone and is not allowed in the bunkhouse. Realizing that Lennie is slow, Crooks talks to him and even teases him that George will not return. When Lennie becomes angry, Crooks fears his strength and stops his teasing. Then, he actually converses with Lennie because he is glad to have someone with whom he can talk. Lennie speaks of the dream of a ranch, but Crooks ignores his ramblings.
Soon after, Candy enters and mentions to Lennie that he has been calculating about the rabbits. Crooks asks what they are talking about. He responds to their dream cynically, but Crooks asks if he can live and work with them when Candy says the money is already in the bank.
Curley's wife makes another entrance. Again, she causes conflict and scoffs at the men's hope for a little ranch. She figures out Lennie is the one who damaged Curley's hand. After arguments, she exits, as do Lennie and Candy.
In Scene Five, Lennie is again in the barn. This time, he sits by a packing case in which his puppy lies dead. Curley's wife enters and talks to Lennie. When she discovers the puppy is dead, she consoles Lennie by saying it was just a mutt and he can get another one. Lennie worries George will no longer let him tend the rabbits on the ranch. He also tells her he will be in trouble with George if he talks to her.
Curley's wife is so lonely that she continues to talk about her life history and her desires. Unable to follow all she says, Lennie begins to talk about the dream of owning a ranch and petting soft things. Curley's wife laughs at him and tells him he is like a child. Her impression of his childishness deceives her, however, as she forgets about his massive strength. Like the mouse of the first scene, Curley's wife has her hair petted too hard and Lennie accidentally breaks her neck when she struggles.
Soon, George and old Candy discover what Lennie has done and know the dream of a ranch is destroyed.
Shortly thereafter, Slim, Curley, and Carlson enter the barn. Carlson says he cannot find his Luger (gun). All the men hurry out quickly because Curley and Carlson want to shoot Lennie.