What is the book, Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck, about?

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durbanville eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck relates the tragic story of George Milton and Lennie Small. They are migrant workers, traveling wherever they can get work; two men with a vision of their future which includes having their own farm; a dream which sustains them both through the hardships, even though George is fully aware that they will never fulfill that dream. 

George has to protect Lennie who is mentally- challenged; a huge man with the mind of a small boy. Lennie has no concept of his own strength nor any understanding of consequences. George and Lennie had to leave their previous employment because of Lennie's actions when his innocent desire to touch a girl's skirt caused an uproar. George is painfully aware that the men have no roots and "don't belong no place," and that he is duty-bound to take care of Lennie. 

Of Mice and Men highlights the plight of men such as George and Lennie and society's rejection of them because they are perceived as being unworthy. Status is important and the men on the ranch are arrogant. Racism is also highlighted in the form of Crooks' s character. Loneliness and isolation are also prevalent and the book reveals, through the men's futile journey from place to place and also through Curley's wife, in need of companionship, how circumstances and attitudes change lives.  

Friendship is an enduring theme in Of Mice and Men and both men pay the ultimate price when George decides that the only way to help his friend escape Curley's mob is to kill him. 

William Delaney eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Steinbeck wanted to write a book about the hard lives of migrant farm workers in California. The characters are only representatives of all these unfortunate men. The author invented a little story featuring George and Lennie in order to make his message dramatic, but it was really the subject that was important to him. The picture of the living and working conditions of migrant farm workers was true, but the characters were entirely fictitious. There was no George or Lennie or Curley or any of the others. They only represent the types of people who inhabited this harsh agrarian world. Also, Steinbeck had definite plans and arrangements to adapt his book to a play to be produced in New York City. Both the book and the play came out in the same year, 1937, which was still deep in the Great Depression. Americans were taking an interest in the lives of the underprivileged. Steinbeck wanted to try to help such people through his writing, as he also tried with his best novel The Grapes of Wrath. The stage play of Of Mice and Men was probably more important to him than the little novel, because New York was the intellectual and cultural capital of America, and thereby he could reach a more influential audience. 

kcogliano eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The novella focuses on the travels of Lennie and George, migrant workers. They are in pursuit of the good old American Dream. George dreams of "living off the fat of the land," or owning his own small plot of land and living off of it. Lennie is a mentally handicapped adult who does not know his own strength. This strength and his diminished mental capacity gets the two of them in trouble forcing them to leave places of employment. George is basically the caretaker and mouthpiece for Lennie. Lennie is his responsibility. 

Although this novella can be considered historical fiction, and it is about the experiences of migrant workers, it is not history heavy, meaning this piece of literature is not overloaded with a lot of historical facts and details. Instead, this novel really focuses on the issues dear to Steinbeck’s heart - poverty, homelessness, the exploitation of itinerant workers, the failure of the Dream, America’s general moral decline, and the themes that are built on those ideas. 

rachellopez | Student

The book follows the story of George and Lennie, who are migrant workers. They find a job at a farm and stay there in a bunk house. Lennie is like a child and George takes care of him, making sure he doesn't get into trouble.

Lennie is attracted to soft things and always wants to touch them. He says that when him and George have their own farm (which is their dream), he will tend for the rabbits. However, Lennie gets into trouble with Curley's (a man who works on the farm) wife and their dream is gone. 

The story includes themes such as idealism vs. reality, loneliness, race, social class, mental disabilities, and loyalty/friendship.