What is the significance of George and Lennie's dream to the narrative as a whole in Of Mice and Men?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The dream of Lennie and George provides hope in a time of great hopelessness in men.

In his poem "Andrea del Sarto," Robert Browning writes,

Love, we are in God's hand. 
How strange now, looks the life he makes us lead; 
So free we seem, so fettered fast we are! ....
Ah, but a man's reach should exceed his grasp, 
Or what's a heaven for?
These words fit well the setting of Of Mice and Men as the disenfranchised of the Great Depression found themselves "fettered" to a life of poverty, want, and itinerancy.  
Like many other men, then, George and Lennie are bindle stiffs who go "freely" without possessions from job to job with little to enjoy and anticipate as they try to get along with others and keep their jobs as long as they can. In fact, it is this dream of ownership which keeps George and Lennie at the ranch after their encounter with Curley. For, when Lennie cries out,
"I don' like this place, George. This ain't no good place. I wanna get outa here,"
George tells him,
"We gotta keep it [the job] until we get a stake. We'll get out just as soon as we can...."
Therefore, the dream is the motivator to keep George and Lennie working. It is also a motivator for Candy and Crooks, who envision a future for themselves if they can be part of the workings of the dream farm. With the dream of a farm, the men's reach can exceed their grasp. This dream of ownership helps them escape their dreary, dead-end lives; it is the hope of a heaven on earth.

George and Lennie's dream of owning their own farm represents the pursuit of the American Dream during the Great Depression. The dream, while inspiring George and Lennie to continue working, is unrealistic and unattainable. In the final scene, George finally realizes that no matter where they go, Lennie will continue to find trouble. Thus, his recitation of the dream to Lennie and then his shooting Lennie symbolizes the death of their personal dream and the impossibility of achieving the American Dream.