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

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

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.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

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.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

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.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

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.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

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.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
Soaring plane image

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial