What does the title of Of Mice and Men mean? 

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lusie0520 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The title “Of Mice And Men comes from the Robert Burns poem “To a Mouse”. The most famous line is: The best laid schemes o' Mice an' Men, Gang aft agley, An' lea'e us nought but grief an' pain, For promis'd joy!” In the poem, Burns has disturbed the home of a field mouse with his plow. He is disturbed to see that the work the mouse has put into its home will be wasted. The line itself means that we can plan, but our plans often go wrong, leaving us with only grief and pain.

This relates very well to “Of Mice and Men.” In the story, Lennie and George have a dream. It’s a big dream for two people who have nothing. Each man places importance on the dream in a different way. For George, it is about finding a stable place to live so he no longer has to travel around, searching for work. Lennie, on the other hand, dreams of feeding rabbits. Lennie’s dream is a simple one, but it is important to him nonetheless. Lennie in the novel is the mouse. He is the one who leaves people alone unless they antagonize him. (example: Curley). At the end of the novel, George lives and Lennie dies, and this inevitable. The plan, so important for these two men, has gone wrong. George is left with grief and pain. As in the poem, when Burns tells the mouse that it is lucky it only looks forward and not back, George has to leave Lennie, his friend, behind. He is devastated but resolute at the end of the novel.

junebug614 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The title of the novel comes from an excerpt of a line from a poem written by poet Robert Burns in 1785 entitled "To a Mouse." It is said that Burns wrote the poem after accidentally destroying a mouse's nest. In the modern English translated version, the stanza containing the title states: 

But little Mouse, you are not alone,

In proving foresight may be vain:

The best laid schemes of mice and men

Go often askew,

And leave us nothing but grief and pain,

For promised joy!

So, in reading this stanza, you can see that the line essentially is saying that the best laid plans of mice and men rarely go as planned. Once you have read Of Mice and Men, you can probably see the connection with this line of the poem and general idea. George and Lennie have this amazing idea and have spent a significant amount of time planning it out. It seems as if nothing can go wrong -- and then it does.  Their plans are ruined and George is left alone with grief and pain. The title is essentially foreshadowing the end of the novel.