Lennie never gets tired of hearing George tell him about the future he imagines for both of them. In the opening chapter Lennie pleads:
“Come on, George. Tell me. Please George. Like you done before.”
George’s voice became deeper. He repeated his words rhythmically as though he had said them many times before. “Guys like us, that work on ranches, are the loneliest guys in the world. They got no family. They don’t belong no place. They come to a ranch an’ work up a stake and then they go inta town and blow their stake, and the first thing you know they’re poundin’ their tail on some other ranch. They ain’t got nothing to look ahead to.”
George goes on to describe the little farm they are going to buy when they get enough money together.
“Well, we’ll have a big vegetable patch and a rabbit hutch and chickens. And when it rains in the winter, we’ll just say the hell with goin’ to work, and we’ll build up a fire in the stove and set around it an’ listen to the rain comin’ down on the roof—Nuts! I ain’t got time for no more.”
George must realize that their dream is impractical. Even if they accumulated enough money to buy a couple of acres with a frame house on it, they would not be living “off the fatta the lan’.” They wouldn’t have any cash income. They would have nothing to sell except vegetables, fruit and milk, and everybody in the region would be trying to raise a little cash the same way. There were fruit and vegetable stands all along the rural roads, and signs reading:
ALL THE MILK YOU CAN DRINK – 10 CENTS.
ALL THE BUTTERMILK YOU CAN DRINK – 10 CENTS.
ALL THE APPLE CIDER YOU CAN DRINK – 10 CENTS.
They would need a jalopy to get into town. They would have to pay for seeds, sugar, flour, coffee, shoes, overalls, gasoline and oil for their vehicle, electricity, property taxes, and other necessities. They would eat potatoes, corn, beans, and other vegetables, with an occasional chicken or rabbit on a Sunday. Their cooking would probably be primitive. Their house would get dirty and run down. Their clothes would be dirty and threadbare. They might learn to bake bread. There would be no entertainment except for a radio. They would work just about as hard for themselves as they are currently working for others.
One way for them to earn cash money would be to pick fruit in the summertime. The wages were extremely low, as Steinbeck illustrated in his novel The Grapes of Wrath, and they would be right back working for others for several months of each year. In fact they might end up doing farm labor the year round, and then have to work on their own two acres as well.
Hamlin Garland wrote about the realities of farming in many books, notably his collection of stories titled Main-Traveled Roads. And more recently the popular novelist John Grisham wrote about growing up on a farm in A Painted House. Small farmers are gradually being replaced by big agribusiness in America. John Steinbeck's classic novel The Grapes of Wrath gives another picture of the grim realities of farming and living off the land.