Late one hot afternoon, two men carrying blanket rolls trudge down the path that leads to the bank of the Salinas River. One man, George Milton, is small and wiry. The other man, Lennie Small, is a large, lumbering fellow whose arms hang loosely at his sides. After they drink at the sluggish water and wash their faces, George sits back with his legs drawn up. Lennie imitates him.
George and Lennie are on their way to a ranch, hired to buck barley there. Lennie had cost them their jobs at their last stop in Weed, where he was attracted by a woman’s red dress. He had grabbed at her clothes. He became frightened by her screaming and then would not let go of her; George was forced to hit him over the head to make him let go. They ran away to avoid a lynching.
After George lectures his companion about letting him talk to their new employer when they are interviewed, Lennie begs for a story he has already heard many times. It is the story of the farm they would own one day. It would have chickens, rabbits, and a vegetable garden, and Lennie would be allowed to feed the rabbits. The threat that Lennie would not be allowed to care for the rabbits if he does not obey causes him to keep still when they arrive at the ranch the next day. In spite of George’s precautions, their new boss is not easy to deal with. He is puzzled because George gives Lennie no chance to talk.
While the men are waiting for the lunch gong, the owner’s son, Curley, comes in, ostensibly looking for his father, but actually to examine the new men. After he leaves, Candy, the swamper who sweeps out the bunkhouse, warns them that Curley is a prizefighter who delights in picking on the men and that he is extremely jealous of any attention given to his slatternly bride.
Lennie has a foreboding of evil and wants to leave, but the two men have no money with which to continue their wanderings. By evening, however, Lennie is happy again. The dog belonging to Slim, the jerkline skinner, had pups the night before, and Slim gave one to simpleminded Lennie.
Slim is easy to talk to. While George plays solitaire that evening, he tells his new friend of the incident in Weed. He has just finished his confidence when Lennie comes in, hiding his puppy inside his coat. George tells Lennie to take the pup back to the barn. He says that Lennie will probably spend the night there with the animal.
The bunkhouse had been deserted by all except old Candy when Lennie asks once more to hear the story of the land they would some day buy. At its conclusion, the swamper speaks up. He has $350 saved, he says, and he knows he will not be able to work many more years. He wants to join George and Lennie in their plan. George finally agrees, for with Candy’s money they will soon be able to buy the farm they had in mind.
Lennie is still grinning with delighted anticipation when Curley comes to the bunkhouse in search of his wife. The men had been taunting him about her wantonness when he spies Lennie’s grin. Infuriated with the thought that he was being laughed at, Curley attacks the larger man. Lennie, remembering George’s warnings, does nothing to defend himself...
(The entire section is 1285 words.)