What is the primary setting of chapter one in John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men?

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Lori Steinbach eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The general setting for the opening chapter of Of Mice and Men along the Salinas River, just south of Soledad, California. Everything here is warm and lush. 

On one side of the river the golden foothill slopes curve up to the strong and rocky Gabilan mountains, but on the valley side the water is lined with trees--willows fresh and green with every spring, carrying in their lower leaf junctures the debris of the winter's flooding; and sycamores with mottled, white, recumbent limbs and branches that arch over the pool. On the sandy bank under the trees the leaves lie deep and so crisp that a lizard makes a great skittering if he runs among them.

Tracks of animals, including rabbits, raccoons, deer, and dogs from the nearby ranches, are everywhere, as they come to the river to drink.

A well worn path runs through the trees, made by the young boys who routinely come to the river to swim and by the "tramps" who want to settle for the night near water. There is a huge sycamore tree with a low branch which has been "worn smooth by men who have sat on it." Nearby is a great pile of ash, the leftovers from many fires. 

On the sand banks the rabbits sat as quietly as little gray, sculptured stones. And then from the direction of the state highway came the sound of footsteps on crisp sycamore leaves. The rabbits hurried noiselessly for cover. A stilted heron labored up into the air and pounded down river. For a moment the place was lifeless, and then two men emerged from the path....

We meet George and Lennie as they make camp here for the night. The giant, mentally challenged man and the small, spare man enjoy this respite before they go tomorrow to their new job at a ranch, hopeful that things might be different here. 

While George cooks their dinner, Lennie tramps around in the brush. They talk familiarly about their dream for their own farm one day, a farm with rabbits. This is a good place, and George makes sure Lennie knows this place well, as it is the place where Lennie is to go if anything bad happens while they are at the ranch. 

In all, the setting is calm and restful, the lush greenery is a sharp contrast to the setting for the next chapter, the ranch where they will begin working tomorrow. It is also interesting to see all the references to rabbits in this setting; they are prominent in the description and they are equally prominent in the men's conversation.