Modernism is, of course, extremely broad and far reaching. One element of Modernism that plays a part in Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men is Marx's revelation that class systems are created, not natural. Marx's revelation is part of the world Modernism navigated in.
Modernism dealt with a world that had lost its foundations. The late 19th century was a time when the Bible's literal truth came into question, when human motivation was relegated to a basic sex drive, when ethics became relative and were revealed to be constructed, rather than universal. Modernism reacted to these intellectual developments.
Of Mice and Men deals with economic classes. The hired hands are very much economically trapped. Marx's beliefs, which were part of the world Modernism dealt with, are reflected in the novel. Curly is certainly not inherently superior to anyone in the novel, yet he is the owner's son. The class system in the work does not accurately reflect nobility, ability, quality of character, etc. It is a construct. Steinbeck, a socialist, reflects Marx's revelations and demonstrates the injustice of America's capitalistic economic system.
As a writer in the period of Modernism, Steinbeck demonstrates in his novella, Of Mice and Men, the following elements in addition to what has previously been mentioned:
- Concern with the accelerating pace of society toward destruction and meaninglessness. As in his stellar novel, The Grapes of Wrath, Steinbeck sets his novella during the Great Depression, a time when thousands of itinerant white male worker were disenfranchised. These men have no home, no family, drifting from menial job to job with no hope for the future.
- Concern with man's alienation and loneliness. Certainly, Candy the old disabled and helpless ranch hand depicts what becomes of these lonely men. Likewise, Crooks, the old black stable worker, epitomizes the alienation of men as he is not even allowed to live in the bunkhouse.
- Concern about the implications of Freud's theories that depict human individuality reduced to an animalistic sex drive. For instance, Curley's wife, like an Eve, is merely a sexual temptress for the men; she is trouble, George senses, for Lennie, the bear-like mentally diminshed friend, suggestive of man's atavistic state as suggested in Darwinism.
- Concern for where humanity stands: what was valuable in the past and what could start the construction of a new society. For the socialist Steinbeck, the fraternity of men provides strength and nurturing through friendship. George tells Slim that without friends men become mean, but with Lennie they share some meaning in their lives--even a dream, a reason to go on.