John Steinbeck - born in California to a weathy family but was interested in the lives of farm labourers. He worked alongside them and used his experiances to write several novels about their lives.
Wall Street Crash - 29th October 1929. Led to depression in America, and across the world. Mass shortage of money (hyperinflation), food and work. Many people became unemployed, banks went bust meaning people lost any savings they had. Many people made homeless.
Migrant Farmers - Wall Street Crash meant that no one had any money, farmers also suffered because of a series of droughts - led to dried up land and failed harvests. Farmers couldn't pay their loans back to the bank and so had to sell their land and move away. Lots of the migrant farmers headed to California hoping there would be spare land there. However they were turned away because locals feared they would be over run. With no where to go many migrants stayed in hude camps in the Californian valleys and tried to find work as casual farmhands.
Ranch Hands - (Like Lennie and George) Low pay, but they were fed. Felt lucky to have work, and were grateful for the bunkhouses where they could sleep.
Overview: George and Lennie are forced to flee their last job, the novel starts with them preparing to arrive at the ranch to work. Just four days later the novel ends in tragedy, after Lennie makes yet another serious mistake. Told in the third person, giving us an unbiased clear view of the entire situation.
Chapter One - Night before starting new jobs as ranch hands, George and Lennie camp beside a "narrow pool". George finds Lennie stroking a dead mouse in his pocket, he then complains that his life could be much simpler if he didn't have to care for Lennie all the time. "When I think of the swell time I could have without you, I go nuts. I never get no peace." We find out they lost their last job in Weed over Lennie innocently trying to feel a girls dress, but the girl got the wrong impression. "Jus' wanted to feel that girl's dress - jus' wanted to pet it like it was a mouse - Well, how the hell did she know you jus' wanted to feel her dress?" The chapter ends with them disscussing their dream, which shows just how much they depend on each other and how strong their friendship is. "Guys like us, that work on ranches, are the lonelist guys in the world... They ain't got nothing to look ahead to... With us it ain't like that. We got a future."
Chapter Two - George and Lennie arrive at the ranch and are shown around by Old Candy, the meet with the boss, and later his son Curly. George warns Lennie to stay away from Curly as he has a bad feeling about him. "Look, Lennie. You try keep away from him, well you? Don't never speak to him." Curly wife, pretty and flirtatious introduces herself to them, and they meet fellow workers, Slim and Carlson.
Chapter Three - George tells Slim why him and Lennie travel together and what happened in Weed. They all discuss Candy's ancient dog, which Carlson shoots as an 'act of kindness'. "Look, Candy. This ol' dog jus' suffers hisself all the time. If you was to him out and shoot him right in the back of the head-", "Tell you what. I'll shoot him for you." George tells Candy about his and Lennie's dream, Candy is eager to join them and has money stashed away and so can make the dream happen quickly. "S'pose I went in with you guys. Tha's three hunderd an' fifty bucks I'd put in." Curly provokes Lennie into a fight, "Curly was balanced and poised. He slashed at Lennie with his left, then smashed down his nose with a right." , Lennie crushes Curlys hand. He stood crying, his fist lost in Lennie's paw". All the men agree to say nothing, Slim forces Curly to stay silent. I think you got your han' caught in a machine. If you don't tell nobody what happened, we ain't going to."
Chapter Four - Most of the men on the ranch go out, leaving Lennie behind. He finds Crooks alone in his room. They talk about land, but Crooks refuses to believe that they are going to do what he has seen many others try and fail to do. When Candy joins them however he starts to believe and whats to get involved. "If you... guys would want a hand to work for nothing - just his keep, why I'd come an' lend a hand." Curly's wife comes in and an arguement starts after she threatens Crooks."'Listen, Nigger.' She said. 'You know what I can do to you if you open your trap?'" Crooks realises he can't ever be a part of George and Lennie's dream.
Chapter Five - Lennie accidently kills the puppy Slim gave him by petting it too hard. He's sad."Why do you got to get killed? You ain't so little as mice. I didn't bounce you hard." Curly's wife comes in and starts talking to Lennie, She allows him too stroke her soft hair ("Lennies big fingers fell to stroking her hair"), but as with the puppy, Lennie strokes to hard and she starts to panic. Lennie accidently kills her too and runs away to hide like George told him too previously. "And then she was still, for Lennie had broken her neck." Candy finds the body and tells George, they tell the other ranch workers. Curly wants revenge. "I'm gonna shoot the guts outta that big ******* myself, even if I only got one hand."
Chapter 6 - Lennie hides in the brush where George told him too. He thinks about the rabbits, and the land he and George dream of getting. He remembers his Aunt Clara, and what she told him about George. "I tried, Aunt Clara ma'am. I tried and tried. I couldn' help it." (and - "'I tol' you an' tol' you,' she said. 'I tol' you, Min' George because he's such a nice fella an' good to you'") George finds Lennie and reiterates their shares dream exactly like he did in the first chapter. He makes Lennie turn away from him and then shoots him with Calson's gun. "The crash of the shot rolled up the kills and rolled down again. Lennie jarred... and he lay without quivering." The other men find him and assume he shot Lennie in self defence. Only Slim knows the truth, and tells George he understands, and that it was the right thing to do. "You hadda, George. I swear you hadda."
All the actions is concentrated into a few days making it much more dramatic. It is one event after another, and it feels almost inevitable that everything will go wrong for George and Lennie. We sense that there will be no other way out for Lennie. George arrive at the ranch in the morning, early in the day, when possibilities are open; Lennie dies as the sun is setting. Do you think this suggests that Lennie's death was 'right'? The sun sets when a day is complete, so does Lennie die when his life is 'complete'?
George Milton - Small man with brains and quick wit. He is a good friend to Lennie after promising Lennie's Aunt Clara that he'd care for him. He try to keep Lennie out of trouble. He needs Lennie's friendship, Lennie's strength helps them get work and Lennie's presence stops George from being lonely. George's threats to leave Lennie are never serious. He and Lennie share a dream to own their own small piece of land. He is prepared to work hard to earn the money to make the dream possible. "...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 people he trusts, for example he tells Slim the truth about Lennie and how he used to play tricks on him but stopped after Lennie nearly drowned.
Lennie Small - He is a big man with limited intelligence who relies on George to take care of him. He trust George completely and copies everything he does. He and George share a dream, Lennie role in the dream is to care for the rabbits. He likes to pet soft things, and often keeps dead mice in his pocket because of their soft fur. This gets him into trouble, like in Weed where a girl got the wrong impression when he tried to stroke her red dress. He is very forgetful, George often has to remind him of important things. He's extreamely strong as well as being gentle and kind, he wouldn't hurt anything on purpose. "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."
Slim - A jerkline skinner who is excellent at his job. A natural leader, everyone respects his opinion and looks up to him. He doesn't need to assert his authority, he is quitely dignified. He understands George and Lennie's relationship and supports George at the end reassuring him that he did the right thing. He has a slightly mysterious quality (as we are told very little else about him), and he could possibly be too good to be true. He is the ideal person to work with. "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."
Curly - Curly is the boss' son, he doesn't need to work as hard as the ranch hands. He's little and hates big guys. He is constantly on the look out for a fight and is a prize-fighter. He recently married a young woman who is often discribed by the ranch hands as being a 'tart'. He also still visits brothels. A rumours on the ranch says that Curly wears a glove full of vaseline to keep his hand soft for his wife. "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."
Curly's wife - Newly married to Curly, she is young, pretty and wears attactive clothes and curls in her hair. We are never told her name, suggesting that she is Curly's property rather than another person living on the ranch. She's flirtatious and is often discribed as giving the other guys on the ranch 'the eye'. With no other women to talk to, she is lonely, and her husband has very little interest in her. She's niave and doesn't really care about Curly. She tells Lennie that she could have been an actress or a model, but her mother had stopped her and she only married Curly because she never got a letter she'd been promised to get into hollywood. "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."
Crooks - The only black person on the ranch, he is also the only permanent employee on the ranch because he injured his back working. He is constantly in pain. His colour means he is isolated, then only time he spends with the other ranch workers is when they pitch horseshoes - a game he always wins. He is lonely, constant racism has made him proud and aloof. He is usually refered to as "******". He lives near the stables in his own room and has very few possessions. He does have an old copy of the 'California Civil Rights' which implies that he is intrested in his own rights. He is cynicle about George and Lennie's dream because he has seen lots of guys with similar dreams fail to reach them. "S'pose you didn't have nobody. S'pose you couldn't go into the bunk house and play rummy 'cause you were black... A guy needs somebody - to be near him... I tell ya a guy gets too lonely an' he gets sick."
Candy - The oldest worker on the ranch, he lost his hand in an accident many years ago. He is the swapper which means he cleans the buckhouse, he knows that sooner or later he will be thrown out and put 'on the county'. He can't afford to loose his job, so he accepts everything that happens to him. He is lonely, he makes friends with George and Lennie and is excited to join in with their dream. This is why he is angry and disapointed when he realises that the dream will never be reality after Lennie kills Curly's wife. His only compainion in the beginning is his old dog, which Carlson shoots as he believes it's cruel to let it live. "The old man came slowly into the room. He had his broom in his hand. And at his heels there walked a drag-footed sheep dog, gray of muzzle, and with pale, blind old eyes."
Of Mice and Men - This title comes from a scottish poem written by Robert Burns written in a Scots dialect. The poem is about a mouse which had dreamed of a safe, warm winter and is now faced with the harsh reality of cold, loneliness and possible death. There is a parallel here with George and Lennie's joyful fantasy of a farm of their own, and its all-too-predictable destruction at the end of the story. Perhaps the is also meant to suggest to us how unpredictable our lives are, and how vulnerable we all are to tradgedy.
Themes: Loneliness & Dreams
Loneliness and dreams are massive themes within 'Of Mice and Men'.
George - Throughout the novel Goerge is one of the few characters who is not lonely, as he has Lennie. After Lennie's death we can predict he will become lonely, even with Slim around. 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 - Lennie is the only character who is innocent enough not to fear loneliness, but he is angry when Crooks suggests George won't come back to him. George and Lennie share a dream - to own a little patch of land and live on it in freedom. Lennie's main desire is to tend the soft-haired rabbits they will keep.
Curly's Wife - She is married to a man she doesn't love and who doesn't love her. There are no other women on the ranch and she has nothing to do. She tries to befriend the men by hanging round the bunkhouse. She dreams of being a movie star. Her hopes were raised by a man who claimed he would take her to Hollywood, but when she didn't receive a letter from him, she married Curley.
Themes: Loneliness & Dreams
Candy - When Candy's ancient, ill dog was shot, Candy had nothing left. He delayed killing the dog, even though he knew deep down that it was the best thing, as he dreaded losing his long-time companion. Candy joins George and Lennie's plan of owning a piece of land. His savings make the dream actually possible to achieve.
Crooks - Crooks lives in enforced solitude, away from the other men. He is bitter about being the only black man around as well as having a disability (his hunchback). He is thrilled when Lennie and Candy come into his room and are his companions for a night. Crooks dreams of being seen as equal to everyone else. He knows his civil rights. He remembers fondly his childhood, when he played with white children who came to his family's chicken ranch, and longs for a similar relationship with white people again.
Loneliness & Isolation
- The bunk house guys blow their money every saturday on prostitutes and beer at "Suzy's place" - They go for some companionship but ulitimately it doesnt stop them from being lonely
- Ranchers travel alone: The ranchers comment on how strange it is the George and Lennie are friends ("Funny how you an' him string along together")
- Crooks, the stable buck, is segregated from the others because he is black. Although he comes off as "proud" and "aloof" Crooks wants companionship. "a guy needs somebody -- to be near him.."
- Curlys wife is lonely - She's in a loveless marriage with an unfaithful husband (curley goes to the brothel with the others) Curleys wife flirts with the other ranchers for attention or appreciation
- Soledad (nearby town) - Spanish word for 'solitude' or 'loneliness'
Solutions To Loneliness
- Lennie and George's dream of having their own place - they think this will solve everything
- Lennie and George have eachother although George still seems lonely (He tells slim "I aint got noone")
- Animals are a temporary solution to loneliness for Lennie, but Lennie kills all the animals he has
- Even marriage doesn't solve the loneliness
- Steinbeck provides no solution to loneliness - it is human nature and it is not something the characters can change
- Lennie has no control over his destiny - he is completely reliant upon George
- Curley's wife couldn't control her destiny when she was younger and become a movie star because of "my ol' lady wouldn't let me. She cannot change her destiny now because she is married and stuck on the ranch
Destined to go wrong (says in title)
The best laid schemes o' mice and men
often go wrong
and leave us nought but grief and pain
for promised joy
- Robert Burns