What is Steinbeck trying to say about human natureĀ in Of Mice and Men?

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amarang9 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Different characters inOf Mice and Menreact to the harsh lifestyle of the itinerant worker in different ways. Curley, compensating for his small stature and harsh job, acts braver and stronger than he is. Slim seems adept at this life and is therefore able to contain Curley. Slim is also thoughtful. He understands George's sadness when Lennie is dead. Crooks realizes that even on the ranch, removed from mainstream American society, racism still exists. He reacts to this discrimination by keeping to himself. Candy, even though he's quite old, or perhaps because he's quite old and desperate, is inspired by George and Lennie's dream of owning a farm and asks to be a part of it. Prior to this, Candy's main companion and distraction from the reality of his harsh life was his dog. With the dog gone, he needs some other crutch or some other idea to take his mind off of the job.

George and Lennie feel that they are different than all these other itinerant workers but they also represent this class of people. In Chapter 1, George explains this to Lennie.

Guys like us, that work on the ranches, are the loneliest guys in the world. They got no fambly. They don't belong no place.

With us it ain't like that. We got a future. We got somebody to talk to that gives a damn about us.

This is a Naturalist or Social Realist novella. That is, it depicts the social and economic forces acting on human beings. The novella does call attention to the social and economic hardships of these workers during this period of American history. The novella also shows how humans react in the face of adversity.

Each character reacts differently. Lennie is simple and the dream of the farm is more than enough to keep him going from job to job. George is frustrated but generous with Lennie. George also believes in the dream of the farm or at least tries to believe in it, for his sake and for Lennie's. For George, Lennie is a friend but also a burden. He uses the dream, impossible as it might seem, to keep his and Lennie's spirits up. With respect to human nature, one conclusion is that humans find ways of dealing with harsh lifestyles. Human beings' resiliency is admirable and can be tragic, considering the obstacles they might face. Some, like Curley, react by becoming insecure and defensive. Some, like George and Lennie, dream of something better even if they know, deep down, that it is virtually impossible.