John Steinbeck wanted to show his readers what life was like for farm workers in his time. In order to do this, he created a story intended to evoke emotional involvement. George and Lennie are the main characters in Of Mice and Men, but they are not real people. What was important to Steinbeck was to paint a word picture of the big California ranches and the men who ran them and the men who labored on them.
Four important elements in the novel are:
The atmosphere of fear and futility during the Great Depression of the 1930s.
The economic exploitation of farm workers.
The miserable living conditions of these farm workers.
The various types of men who had to engage in back-breaking farm labor because they had no educations and no other alternatives.
Finally, Steinbeck's book is important to contemporary readers as history. Readers are able to travel backwards in time and get the feeling of how things used to be long ago. Conditions have changed radically since the 1930s. Two of the most radical changes in agriculture have been the development of all kinds of labor-saving agricultural machinery and the fairly successful organization of farm workers into the United Farm Workers union, for which Cesar Chavez has been given a great deal of well-deserved praise.
Steinbeck's proposed solution to the exploitation of farm workers was organization, and he often dramatized the efforts of the powerful agribusiness interests to prevent such labor organization. Any student who likes Of Mice and Men ought to read Steinbeck's longer novel The Grapes of Wrath, which is his masterpiece.