What are the themes of John Steinbeck's novella, Of Mice and Men?

Expert Answers
booboosmoosh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In John Steinbeck's novella, Of Mice and Men, there are several themes.

The story takes place in California, during the Great Depression of the 1930s. It describes the way of life for two men, George and Lennie, as they travel from place to place to find work. They are also pursuing the American dream of the time: to own a piece of land they could call their own, as opposed to moving all the time and working for someone else. Thousands of people were in the same situation, and people came and went so quickly that there was little time to get to know people or become attached to them.

Themes found throughout the novel include: idealism vs reality, alienation vs loneliness, race and racism, class conflict, mental disability (as seen with Lennie), loyalty, and friendship.

These themes revolve around George and Lennie who travel together, and the people they meet at the ranch where they go to work, but Steinbeck uses these themes to impart what he observed among migrant workers in the California area during the turbulent times after the Great Crash of 1929.

coolnoda | Student


Themes are the fundamental and often universal ideas explored in a literary work.
The Predatory Nature of Human Existence

Of Mice and Men teaches a grim lesson about the nature of human existence. Nearly all of the characters, including George, Lennie, Candy, Crooks, and Curley’s wife, admit, at one time or another, to having a profound sense of loneliness and isolation. Each desires the comfort of a friend, but will settle for the attentive ear of a stranger. Curley’s wife admits to Candy, Crooks, and Lennie that she is unhappily married, and Crooks tells Lennie that life is no good without a companion to turn to in times of confusion and need. The characters are rendered helpless by their isolation, and yet, even at their weakest, they seek to destroy those who are even weaker than they. Perhaps the most powerful example of this cruel tendency is when Crooks criticizes Lennie’s dream of the farm and his dependence on George. Having just admitted his own vulnerabilities—he is a black man with a crooked back who longs for companionship—Crooks zeroes in on Lennie’s own weaknesses.

In scenes such as this one, Steinbeck records a profound human truth: oppression does not come only from the hands of the strong or the powerful. Crooks seems at his strongest when he has nearly reduced Lennie to tears for fear that something bad has happened to George, just as Curley’s wife feels most powerful when she threatens to have Crooks lynched. The novella suggests that the most visible kind of strength—that used to oppress others—is itself born of weakness.

bretthe | Student

I believe your question should be: What are the themes present within the novel?

Please check the following sources for more information.

Read the study guide:
Of Mice and Men

Access hundreds of thousands of answers with a free trial.

Start Free Trial
Ask a Question