How does the Great Depression impact the way characters behave in Of Mice and Men?

Expert Answers
Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In the end, the Great Depression creates the conditions that govern Lennie, George, and all of the characters in Steinbeck's work. The creation of "bindle stiffs," men who would travel from ranch to ranch in a vagabond manner to find work is a direct result of the agricultural challenges in the Great Depression.  The fact that men were "trapped" to a certain extent is something that impacts the characters in the novel.  Few, if any, are happy, as they are bound to their work because of so little being present.  Lennie and George are representative of this.  Their dream of owning a farm represents the desire for economic autonomy and empowerment, something that was not present during the Great Depression.  The fact that Curley's wife is able to spit so much of venom at Crooks and Candy in chapter four is representative of the fact that both men need the work offered by the ranch and cannot speak against her, as she is right in that a word to Curley will force them back to unemployment, at best.  Such a condition where men are trapped and are in dire economic straits helps to create an emotional climate where individuals do not truth one another.  It is also the reason why Lennie and George's friendship is so unique, something that strikes everyone that they meet.  In a time where so few bonds are honored because of the desire for something better and something that feeds self interest, Lennie and George demonstrate a bond that transcends their context and condition.  It is only because of the Great Depression and the problems caused within it that everyone, despite differences in background and experience, feels the same pressure bearing down on them.