What Happens in Of Mice and Men?

Lennie and George are migrant workers during the Great Depression. When the novel opens, they're on their way to work on a ranch in Salinas, California. Instead of going straight to the ranch, they camp by the river for the night and talk about their dream of one day having their own ranch.

  • George has to look out for Lennie, whose mental disability makes him both childish and generous. Curley, the boss' son, quickly takes a disliking to Lennie, in part because Lennie is bigger and stronger. Curley's wife, a lonely, neglected woman, likes hanging around the bunkhouse where the men live.
  • George and Lennie make friends with Candy, an aging "swamper" who lost his hand in a work-related accident and now works as a kind of janitor. Candy promises them $350 if they let him join them on the ranch they plan on buying. All three men are amazed to find their dream within reach.
  • Things soon take a turn for the worse. Candy allows his dog to be shot, Curley gets his hand crushed when he picks a fight with Lennie, and Lennie, not knowing his own strength, accidentally breaks Curley's wife's neck while petting her hair. Fearing a lynch mob, George does the merciful thing and kills Lennie himself.

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Summary

Introduction

John Steinbeck’s novella Of Mice and Men was published in 1937 and is considered Steinbeck’s first major achievement as an author. Of Mice and Men focuses on the lives of George Milton and Lennie Small, two friends who are working towards a shared dream of owning their own piece of land during the Great Depression. Of Mice and Men explores themes of human interaction, dependence, and the damaging effects of isolation.

Plot Summary

Of Mice and Men follows the lives of George Milton and Lennie Small over three days. On the first day, the two men sit by the Salinas River in California, resting on their journey to a ranch where they’ve found work. Lennie is large and strong but has a mental disability and relies on George’s assistance to function well in society. At the riverside, George sees that Lennie has been keeping a dead mouse in his pocket. George throws the mouse away, but Lennie later tries to retrieve it because he loves stroking its soft fur. Lennie begins to cry over the mouse, and George tries to console him. In his frustration, George complains about having to care for Lennie. When Lennie offers to leave him, however, George refuses and tells Lennie that they have to stick together. George and Lennie discuss their dream of owning a piece of land. Before going to sleep, George tells Lennie to memorize the location of the riverbank. He tells Lennie to return to that spot if he runs into any trouble while working on the ranch.

When George and Lennie arrive at the ranch, they are taken to the ranch hand’s bunkhouse. They meet Candy, an aging, one-handed menial laborer—called an “old swamper”—who keeps the bunkhouse clean. The ranch’s boss enters and admonishes George and Lennie for being late. George does all the talking for Lennie, which makes the boss suspicious. Upon hearing Lennie speak, the boss sees that Lennie has a mental disability and assumes that George is taking advantage of Lennie. George lies to the boss, telling him that Lennie is his cousin and that he was kicked in the head by a horse as young boy. This story quells the boss’s suspicion, although George realizes that the boss will be watching them from now on.

Shortly afterwards, the boss’s son, Curley, comes into the bunkhouse. When he sees Lennie, Curley immediately tries to pick a fight with him. After Curley leaves, Candy explains to George and Lennie that Curley is a boxer and is intimidated by men larger than him. George warns Lennie against getting involved with Curley. They then meet Curley’s wife, who arrives while looking for Curley. George immediately dislikes her and sees her as troublesome, whereas Lennie finds her pretty. George warns Lennie to stay away from Curley’s wife. Slim, the wise and patriarchal...

(The entire section is 1,341 words.)