Places in Of Mice and Men
Rich agricultural region along north-central California’s Pacific coast in which the novel is set. Steinbeck grew up in the Salinas Valley and set much of his important fiction there and in the surrounding areas. In this short novel, his focus is comparatively narrow: All its action unfolds between the Salinas River, a single ranch, and the nearby town of Soledad. Although the backdrop of the story hints at social discontent—which is manifest in the dream of itinerant farmworkers George Milton and Lennie Small to own their own land—the book’s drama centers on the personal problems of the giant Lennie, who has a history of stumbling into serious trouble wherever he and George go.
Stream next to which the story begins and ends. The novel opens as itinerant farmworkers George and Lennie are hunkering down beside the pleasant river, discussing the new ranch to which they are headed. They also talk about a little ranch they hope to buy for themselves, and the pastoral riverside location evokes Lennie’s wistful yearnings to raise rabbits and live “off the fatta the lan’.”
Fearing that the simple Lennie may get into trouble with their new employers, George makes him promise to return to this same spot by the river if something happens that forces them to flee the ranch. Later, Lennie accidentally kills a woman and comes back to the river, where George finds him before the rest of the ranch hands catch up with him. There, Lennie has a vision and then with George’s help, imagines the little place with rabbits, where there is no trouble. As George instructs him to gaze across the river and see the place with no trouble, he shoots Lennie with a pistol to prevent his being lynched by others.
Salinas Valley farm on which George and Lennie take jobs as hands. George hopes only that he and Lennie can keep their jobs long enough to build up a cash stake that will help them buy a small farm for themselves. There is little description of the farm beyond its barn and the bunkhouse in which George and Lennie are quartered. They arrive during what appears to be a barley harvest—work at which the powerful Lennie excels. George and Lennie establish a pleasant camaraderie with some of their bunkmates, so their immediate prospects seem favorable. Such trouble as arises comes from the owner’s family: his belligerent son who unwisely taunts Lennie into a pointless physical confrontation, and the son’s wife, whose coquettish flirtation with the man who humiliates her husband results in both her and Lennie’s deaths. Although George and Lennie’s troubles have little to do with broader labor problems, it is significant that their downfall is brought on by representatives of landowners.
Quarters of Crooks, the ranch’s African American cook, who has been living apart from the main bunkhouse through the many years he has worked on the ranch. Although forced to live alone because he is black, he has the ironic privilege of being the only hand on the ranch to enjoy true privacy. He hungers for company other than his books but has never admitted another hand into his room before the night in which Lennie wanders in to pay a friendly call. When another veteran ranch hand, Candy, soon follows, Crooks grudgingly allows the intrusions but secretly relishes having human company, even if it consists only of two fellow pariahs—a dimwit and a crippled amputee. Crooks’s hunger for companionship comes to the surface when he begs to be...
(The entire section is 934 words.)