What comments about life does John Steinbeck seem to want to convey in his novella, Of Mice and Men?
The title of Steinbeck's novel comes from Robert Burns' poem "To a Mouse" (the longer version of the title being "To a Mouse, on Turning Her Up in Her Nest with the Plough"). It is believed that Burns wrote the poem after discovering a nest of mice that his plough had disturbed. In the seventh stanza (Modern English Version), the speaker tells the mouse that he is not alone, that men's plans are also disrupted:
The best laid schemes of mice and men
Go often awry,
And leave us nothing but grief and pain,
For promised joy!
Lennie and George had the promise (dream) of one day owning their own farm. But those plans go awry for a number of reasons: Lennie's inability to conform to the social world of working on ranches, George's inability to watch Lennie at all times, and the brutal reality of working in those physical and economic conditions during the Great Depression.
In the second stanza of the poem, Burns writes, "I am truly sorry man's dominion / Has broken Nature's social union,"; in the novel, George and Lennie are like the mice. They are living/working on someone else's land: some other "man's dominion." The practical implication is that as long as they work for cash and have no stake in the land and their futures, they are destined to be like the mice: wanderers who will inevitably be disrupted, evacuated, or destroyed by those who "own" the land. Their dream of owning their own land is an escape from this wandering lifestyle that effectively has no future. The entire class of itinerant workers faces this reality. When Candy overhears George and Lennie talk about their dream, he is eager to join them, especially considering that, in his old age, he will become obsolete as a worker:
You seen what they done to my dog tonight? They says he wasn't no good to himself nor nobody else. When they can me here I wisht somebody'd shoot me. But they won't do nothing like that. I won't have no place to go, an' I can't get no more jobs. I'll have thirty dollars more comin', time you guys is ready to quit.
In this context of Social Realism, where the author presents the harsh reality of ranch life during the Great Depression, Steinbeck is not saying dreams are useless; rather, he is making a critique of social and economic realities which make such dreams difficult to achieve.