What is the setting in chapter 1 of Steinbeck's novel Of Mice and Men?

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John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men takes place during The Great Depression in Salinas, California. Chapter 1 opens with George Milton and Lennie Smalls walking down beside the Salinas River. The beauty of the opening description starkly contrasts the lives of the friends. From the way the two interact,...

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John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men takes place during The Great Depression in Salinas, California. Chapter 1 opens with George Milton and Lennie Smalls walking down beside the Salinas River. The beauty of the opening description starkly contrasts the lives of the friends. From the way the two interact, it is clear that they have been traveling companions for some time and that George is the leader of the pair. The two travel from ranch to ranch looking for employment and a place to stay.

The two men pass the time talking about their plans for the future: their version of the American Dream. They want to be able to have their own piece of land to own and work; George will take care of everything except the rabbits which will fall under Lennie’s charge. As George reminds Lennie of how to act at the new ranch giving the reader the impression the search for a new job is the result of Lennie’s actions at the previous ranch.

The Great Depression has an impact on the course of the book. George and Lennie have moved West trying to find work and, like many Americans during the time, struggle to make enough money to live. While their journey is difficult, it is clear the two have a strong friendship and that this need for companionship will be important throughout the novel.

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In the opening chapter of Steinbeck's classic novella Of Mice and Men, George and Lennie walk down a worn path to the peaceful banks of the Salinas River, which is a few miles south of Soledad, California, where they plan on finding work at a nearby ranch. The name Soledad is Spanish for "solitude" and "loneliness," which underscores the prominent theme of solitude and isolation in the story. From the riverbank, the tops of the Gabilan Mountains can be seen and the environment is tranquil and relaxing. Small animals frequent the area as George and Lennie proceed to make a cooking fire and camp out.

Steinbeck portrays the banks of the Salinas River as a quiet, natural environment, where the "golden foothills" sparkle in the sky and a gentle breeze passes through the surrounding sycamores. Steinbeck displays his expert use of imagery describing the riverbank as he sets the tone and atmosphere of the story's location. The tranquil bank of the Salinas River is also the location where George tells Lennie to hide if anything bad happens on the farm.

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In Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men, the setting at the start of Chapter One is "a few miles south of Soledad." Lenny and George have been walking for what (to George) seems like four miles. George is aggravated, having been dropped off by a truck driver who said they didn't have far to go.

'Jes' a little stretch down the highway,' he says. 'Jes' a little stretch.'

It is a hot day and the two men rest and cool off on the banks of the Salinas River, located in the Salinas Valley, as is Soledad—a town in California. From the river they move along to take work as ranch hands in Soledad. Soledad is located near the Pacific Coast of the United States, south of San Francisco.

"Soledad" means "solitude" or "loneliness," and while the riverbank provides both of these things, the time they spend working at the ranch reflects these themes even more so: not only with Lenny and George, but also for the rest of the men working with them.

George and Lenny are itinerant workers, following opportunities for employment wherever they can find them, carrying what little they own on their backs.

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The general setting for the opening chapter of Of Mice and Men along the Salinas River, just south of Soledad, California. Everything here is warm and lush. 

On one side of the river the golden foothill slopes curve up to the strong and rocky Gabilan mountains, but on the valley side the water is lined with trees--willows fresh and green with every spring, carrying in their lower leaf junctures the debris of the winter's flooding; and sycamores with mottled, white, recumbent limbs and branches that arch over the pool. On the sandy bank under the trees the leaves lie deep and so crisp that a lizard makes a great skittering if he runs among them.

Tracks of animals, including rabbits, raccoons, deer, and dogs from the nearby ranches, are everywhere, as they come to the river to drink.

A well worn path runs through the trees, made by the young boys who routinely come to the river to swim and by the "tramps" who want to settle for the night near water. There is a huge sycamore tree with a low branch which has been "worn smooth by men who have sat on it." Nearby is a great pile of ash, the leftovers from many fires. 

On the sand banks the rabbits sat as quietly as little gray, sculptured stones. And then from the direction of the state highway came the sound of footsteps on crisp sycamore leaves. The rabbits hurried noiselessly for cover. A stilted heron labored up into the air and pounded down river. For a moment the place was lifeless, and then two men emerged from the path....

We meet George and Lennie as they make camp here for the night. The giant, mentally challenged man and the small, spare man enjoy this respite before they go tomorrow to their new job at a ranch, hopeful that things might be different here. 

While George cooks their dinner, Lennie tramps around in the brush. They talk familiarly about their dream for their own farm one day, a farm with rabbits. This is a good place, and George makes sure Lennie knows this place well, as it is the place where Lennie is to go if anything bad happens while they are at the ranch. 

In all, the setting is calm and restful, the lush greenery is a sharp contrast to the setting for the next chapter, the ranch where they will begin working tomorrow. It is also interesting to see all the references to rabbits in this setting; they are prominent in the description and they are equally prominent in the men's conversation. 

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The setting is outdoors on the bank of the Salinas River not far from the town of Salinas, which is still the biggest urban settlement in the area. It is about 125 miles south of San Francisco and is a very rich agricultural area. John Steinbeck grew up in this region and often wrote about it in his stories and novels. George and Lennie have found a pleasant place to camp for the night. They have built a fire. Steinbeck evidently chose to open his novel in a beautiful natural setting to serve as contrast with the unnatural world inhabited by the itinerant farm workers who all live together in a bunkhouse and spend ten hours a day working for low wages and plain food. The fact that they are only camping highlights their homeless condition. Steinbeck also establishes this setting because Lennie will come back to hide here after accidentally killing Curley's wife. George will be the only person who knows where to find him because he gives Lennie explicit instructions to come here and hide if he should get into any trouble at the ranch where they are going to start work the next day.

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The setting in the first chapter in John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men will prove to be very important later on in the novella.  After George and Lennie flee Weed, they take a bus to Salinas, California.  They are dropped off far from the farm in which they are to report to work, and so they must camp out for the night on the banks of the Salinas River.  Steinbeck's rich description of the setting in the first chapter is very explicitly beautiful, and really sets up the animal imagery that is evident throughout the text.  In the morning, the two main characters have to walk several miles in order to get to their next farm job.  They are chastised by their new boss for arriving later than they were expected.

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The book takes place near Steinbeck's hometown in Depression-era California.  Lennie and George are migrant workers who have to skip from farm to farm because Lenny has once again gotten them in trouble.

Most of Chapter 1 involves them walking the sleepy country roads of agricultural California on their way to their next job, as the character development takes place and we find out more about who both of them are.  After a long bus ride (which ends too quickly) they finally end up camping near a stream for the night.

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