The story begins when George and Lennie prepare to arrive at a ranch to work - and ends in tragedy just four days later. The story is told in the third person, so we are provided with a clear, unbiased view of all the characters. The title of the book comes from a poem by the 18th century Scottish poet Robert Burns. It is about a mouse which carefully builds a winter nest in a wheat field, only for it to be destroyed by a ploughman. It is written in Scots dialect.
The best laid schemes o' mice an' men
Gang aft a-gley,
An' lea'e us nought but grief an' pain,
For promised joy!
(The best laid schemes of mice and men
Often go wrong
And leave us nothing but grief and pain,
Instead of promised joy!)
Loneliness and Dreams
The two main themes in 'Of Mice and Men' - related with the reference to Burns' mouse - are loneliness and dreams. They interlock: people who are lonely have most need of dreams to help them through.
George is not lonely during this book, as he has Lennie, but he will be lonely post-Lennie's death, as he has lost his best friend. George and Lennie share a dream - to own a little patch of land and live on it in freedom. He is so set on the idea that he even knows of some land that he thinks they could buy.
Lennie is too innocent to really experience or fear loneliness. He relies completely on George. When Crooks suggests that George wouldn't come back, he becomes very angry. Lennie shares the dream with George. He is very adamant on being able to tend to the rabbits.
Curley's wife is married to the boss' son and doesn't love or even like the man, and I believe that Curley doesn't love her either. There are no other women on the ranch and as she tries to befriend the men, she is seen as a 'tart'. She is a very lonely and isolated character. Her dream was to be a movie star, and it was encouraged by a man who told her she was a natural. When she didn't retrieve a letter from him, she married Curley.
Candy, when his dog is shot, is completely alone. Although his dog was extremely old and suffering, Candy did not kill him because he didn't want to lose his only real connection. He had the dog from when it was a puppy and raised it. It was his life companion and he didn't want to lose it. Candy joins George and Lennie with their plan. He had savings which made the dream more hopeful and possible.
Loneliness and Dreams continued (with quotes)
Crooks is an isolated character, more so than Curley's wife, because he is black. During that time racism was taken for granted and was the norm. He lives in solitude away from the other men in a small room off from the barn. He is bitter because of his loneliness and because of his 'back-busted ******' identity. Although he didn't admit it, when Lennie and Candy come into his room and talk to him he is thrilled that he actually has human contact for a night. Crooks' dream is to be equal with everyone else. He knows his civil rights. He fondly remembers his childhood when he played with white children who came to his family's ranch and longs to have that relationship again with the men on the ranch, but he is too stubborn to show it.
"Everybody wants a little piece of land, not much. Jus' somethin' that was his."
When Candy joins Lennie in Crooks' room, they talk about the land they plan on buying. Candy explains it simply - everyone wants something to call their own.
"I think I knowed from the very first. I think I knowed we'd never do her. He usta like to hear about it so much I got to thinking maybe we would."
When Candy and George finds Curley's wife dead, Candy asks about the future. They both know that they'll never fulfil their dream. George says that he never really believed in it, but after repeating it so much to Lennie he started to believe they could. He did this maybe to calm his disappointment or because he knows it was too good to be true.
"Whit found the place again, but he did not surrender his hold on it. He pointed out the letter with his forefinger."
He keeps hold of the magazine because the letter from his old partner reminded him of when he had a friend and of happier times. There isn't much of Whit, but he is lonely, especially after his friend had quit.
"It's just the talking. It's just being with another guy. That's all."
Crooks talks to Lennie, knowing that Lennie isn't paying attention or understanding him, but is just enjoying having company. Talking to someone who doesn't answer back to him makes him feel powerful and superior, which he doesn't have with any other white man he knows.
"An' what am I doin'? Standin' here talking to a bunch of bindle stiffs - a ****** an' a dum-dum and a lousy ol' sheep - an' likin' it because they ain't nobody else."
Curley's wife is abusive to Crooks, Lennie and Candy. It's not because she dislikes them, but because she is bitter about not having any plans for a Saturday night and being left with them. The differences between her life now and her dream is too vast for her to bear, so she lashes out at everyone.
Quotes continued and Characters
"Well, you ain't being kind to him keepin' him alive"
Carlson says this to Candy while trying to convince him to kill his dog. Candy doesn't want to lose his companion, but Carlson understands that the dog needs to be killed to stop it's suffering. This links in with Lennie's death. George doesn't want to lose his friend, but he knows it is for the best.
- He is small, especially compared to Lennie, but he has brains and a quick wit.
- He has been a good friend and father figure to Lennie since he promised Lennie's Aunt Clara that he would take care of him. He does everything for Lennie, like speaking for him, cooking for him and carrying anything that is important for him like his work card.
- He needs Lennie. Lennie is strong so it gets them both jobs, but he also keeps George from feeling lonely. Although he threatens to leave Lennie when he is angry, he doesn't mean it. He is proud of Lennie, shown by him constantly talking about his strength and niceness.
- He shares a dream to own land with Lennie and later Candy.
- "...with us it ain't like that. We got a future. We got somebody to talk to that gives a damn about us. We don't have to sit in no bar room blowin' in our jack 'jus because we got no place else to go. If them other guys gets in jail they can rot for all anybody gives a damn. But not us."
- He is honest with the people he trusts. He tells Slim about the events in Weed and how he is guilty about how he treated Lennie when they were young.
- He is a big man, and extremely strong. He can work as well as two men. He is always compared to a child or an animal. He is very animalistic.
- He probably has learning difficulties. He relies on George to look after him. He copies George and trusts him completely.
- "Behind him (George) walked his opposite, a huge man, shapeless of face, with large, pale eyes, with wide, sloping shoulders; and he walked heavily, dragging his feet a little, the way a bear drags his paws. His arms did not swing at his sides, but hung loosely."
- He shares the dream with Lennie. He wants to tend to the rabbits more than anything.
- He likes soft things, like puppies, rabbits and mice. We learn that this gave him trouble in Weed: he touched a woman's dress and the woman panicked and accused him of ****. They escaped Weed to save themselves from being hurt
- He is forgetful. George is always reminding him of important things. 'you don't remember a thing you do but you remember everything I say'
- Slim is the jerkline skinner. He is very good at his job.
- He is the natural leader of the ranch. Everyone respects him and looks up to him.
- He has a quiet dignity - he doesn't need to assert himself to have authority.
- "there was a gravity in his manner and a quiet so profound that all talked stopped when he spoke. His authority was so great that his word was taken on any subject, be it politics or love."
- He understands the relationship between George and Lennie. At the end he helps George and convinces that what he did was right.
- He is a mysterious character. We don't know much about him.
- Curley is the boss' son. He doesn't need to work like the other ranch hands and has a lot of free time.
- He hates big guys because he is a small man.
- He is a prize-fighter and is always looking for a fight.
- He is a newly-wed and is very possessive of his wife but he still visits brothels.
- "He glanced coldly at George and then at Lennie. His arms gradually bent at the elbows and his hands closed into fists. He stiffened and went into a slight crouch. His glance was at once calculating and pugnacious."
- Candy tells George that he wears a glove 'fulla vaseline' on his hand to keep it 'soft for his wife'.
- She is newly married to Curley.
- We don't find out her name - she is seen as Curley's 'property' with no indivudual identity.
- She is pretty, wears attractive clothes and is young.
- She is always hanging around the bunkhouse and is seen as flirty. She is described as 'jail-bait' and a 'tramp'.
- She is isolated and lonely. There are no other women on the ranch and Curley isn't interested in her. We never see Curley and his wife together.
- "What kinda harm am I doin' to you? Seems like they ain't none of them cares how I gotta live. I tell you I ain't used to livin' like this. I coulda made somethin' of myself."
- She doesn't like Curley. She tells this to Lennie and that she only married him because she couldn't be an actress. She is naive.
- He is the oldest ranch worker. He lost his right hand in an accident at work.
- He is the 'swamper' - the man who cleans the bunkhouse. He knows that when he is too old to work he will be put 'on the country'. Because of this, he accepts anything and doesn't challenge anything. He doesn't want to lose his job.
- He owns a very old dog that he has had since it was a puppy. It is his only friend and companion.
- "The old man came slowly into the room. He had a broom in his hand. At his heels there walked a drag-footed sheep dog, grey of muzzle, and with pale, blind old eyes."
- Carlson insists on shooting the dog to take it out of its misery. Candy is devastated.
- He is lonely and isolated but makes friends with George and Lennie and offers to give them his compensation money so they can all buy a ranch together to achieve their dream.
- When he finds Curley's wife dead, he is furious because he knows that their dream is over.