At a Glance

  • John Steinbeck set Of Mice and Men in his hometown of Salinas, California, which was hit hard by the Great Depression. Migrant workers Lennie Small and George Milton stand in for thousands of itinerant men who were forced to seek work wherever they could in order to survive the Great Depression.
  • Lennie's childish innocence contrasts with George's intelligent realism. From a distance, the friends seem like polar opposites, with the shorter George taking on the responsibility of keeping Lennie safe; but readers soon realize that theirs is a symbiotic relationship where George acts as a father figure to Lennie and Lennie keeps George company.
  • Friendship is an important theme in Of Mice and Men. George and Lennie's friendship binds them together, giving them hope in the bleak years of the Great Depression. Other characters in the novel, most notably Candy and Curley's wife, seek friendship as a way of counteracting their loneliness, with varying degrees of success.

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Analysis

As a teenager, Steinbeck worked alongside migrant workers on a sugar beet farm in Salinas, California, shaping his desire to write for the worker, for the everyday person. Steinbeck gave a voice to the oppressed laborer, exploring the difficulties that migrant workers faced during the Great Depression, when Of Mice and Men was published in 1937. In Of Mice and Men, Steinbeck seeks to humanize the plight of American workers through Steinbeck’s narrative style, the novella's historical context, and the portrayal of the American dream.

Narrative Style

Steinbeck’s narrative style focuses on character interactions within limited stretches of space and time to amplify the scarcity and oppression of the Great Depression, the time period in which Of Mice and Men is set. The novella takes place over the course of three days and has four total settings: the riverbank of the Salinas River, the bunkhouse on the ranch, the barn on the ranch, and Crooks’s bunk room. Compared to the opening scene, which spans an entire day, the rest of the novella covers four days in six scenes. Time seems to only grow more still the longer George and Lennie live on the ranch, until it stops altogether with Lennie’s death.

The novella cycles through the same four places, mirroring the cyclical life on the ranch the workers experience. Steinbeck takes little time for description of setting, and his imagery is sparse. The limited number of scenes highlights how trapped the characters are within their individual places in society, as if both the reader and characters are confined to only these four spaces. Though the characters discuss their dreams of escaping the ranch and starting anew, the tightly controlled lens of the story reveals how futile this attempt is.

Due to the short length of the novella, there are less opportunities for extensive character development. In the space allotted, the characters’ dialogue and interaction create a field in which readers can decide which characters they sympathize with. As a result, Steinbeck's characters lend themselves towards presenting as sympathetic or unsympathetic.

Characters such as Curley and his wife have dialogue that is either aggressive or wheedling, which may leave an unsavory impression on readers. Curley’s wife’s dialogue reveal her reprehensibility, causing many to feel no sympathy for her. As a result, her death at the end of the novella is less jarring than Lennie’s fate.

Other characters, such as Crooks and Candy, are characters who come across as inherently good. Their dialogue and interactions revolve around their loneliness and wish for a better life, which readers can easily relate to and affirm. Last, George and Slim are painted as authority figures, and their actions through dialogue seem confident and endearing.

Historical Context

With the invention of farming machinery in the mid 1930s, fewer migrant laborers were needed, deepening their already difficult struggle to find steady work. During this time, farms in California were large...

(The entire section is 6,658 words.)