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.
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.
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.