The Salinas Valley occupies importance in Steinbeck's work on a couple of levels. It is the opening and ending of the novel. It is where the action is introduced and sadly concludes. The location of the Salinas Valley is also significant. It is located near a town called Soledad, translated to mean "loneliness." Adjacent to a place synonymous with pain, the natural world continues on. Animals struggle to find a source of food and wander in the hope of finding subsistence. In much the same manner, Lennie and George enter this realm, also seeking to find a source of food and their own desires for happiness. The Salinas Valley is also significant because it is here in which George tells Lennie at the start of the novel to hide if he encounters trouble. At this location, amongst the desert creatures who live in a wandering condition, Lennie is to take refuge should trouble arise.
Bookending this narrative is the Salinas Valley at the end of the narrative. Lennie has taken refuge here as things have gone awfully wrong. Still located near Soledad, Lennie finds himself to be terribly lonely. No longer the care free individual who splashed into the small pool of water earlier in the novel and no longer making rings in the water, Lennie sees a water snake in the hold of a heron and recognizes his own futility. He is filled with "loneliness," and only has his hallucinations of Aunt Clara and a rather critical rabbit to keep him company. The natural setting has not changed since the first chapter. Yet, it appears different because of all that has transpired from the time in which the men encountered it. While it has stayed the same, the men who must inhabit it have changed, and thus, the setting looks different to both. The Salinas Valley thus operates as both the home to which the men pledge loyalty to one another and is also the background in which the ultimate sacrifice in the name of loyalty must be made.