Why did John Steinbeck title his book Of Mice and Men?

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mercut1469 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

John Steinbeck often used literary allusions in the titles of his novels. In his novella Of Mice and Men, he refers to the 18th century Robert Burns poem "To a Mouse." The poem is about a farmer plowing his field when he eventually disrupts the nest of a mouse. Steinbeck focuses on the lines in the next to last stanza of Burns's poem. The poem, like much of Burns's work, was written in the Scottish dialect and is often paraphrased for better comprehension. In the original, Burns writes,

But Mousie, thou art no thy lane, 

In proving foresight may be vain:

The best laid schemes o' mice an' men

Gang aft agley

An' lea'e us nought but grief an' pain, 

For promis'd joy!

Roughly, this stanza could be paraphrased:

But Mouse, you're not alone

In proving that looking ahead may be useless

The best laid plans of mice and men

Often go astray

And leave us nothing but grief and pain

Instead of happiness

The sentiment expressed in these lines seems a perfect summation of the problems which face the characters in the book. George, Lennie and Candy are forever thinking of the day when their plan to buy their own farm will come true and provide them with joy and happiness. Instead, because of Lennie's accidental killing of Curley's wife, the plans go astray and are never realized. In the end, George is left with grief over the loss of his friend and pain over the shattering of the dream. Candy too feels this grief as, at the end of chapter five, he laments that he will never go to the farm and "hoe in the garden," no matter how well intentioned his plans had been.