Of Mice and Men * John Steinbeck

George and Lennie are migrant American labourers –the one alert and protective and the other strong, stupid and potentially dangerous. This is the powerful story of their relationship and their dreams of finding a more stable and less lonely way of life.


“Two men, George and Lenny, form a strong friendship, one man assuming the role of father-figure for the other, who has a child-like mentality but a brute strength that needs to be kept in check. Their quest in life is simple – to become settled and self-sufficient and to end their roaming lifestyle. However, George, the father-figure, is forced to face the reality of Lenny’s mental instability/physical strength; he takes on the responsiblity of preventing further hurt/death by ending his friend’s life, and thus ending his dream for their future.”

J.L. McEachen, Resident Scholar

George and Lenny have a dream. They want to save enough of the money that they earn as migrant field hands to buy their own farm and become their own bosses. George will be able to settle down without having to spend all his time and energy looking out for his huge cousin, Lenny, who is retarded, and Lenny will be able to do as he pleases without causing them trouble. They are hired to help pick the crop on a farm.

The pint-size foreman, Curley, a sadistic, former boxer, who is unsure of his manhood and of his ability to satisfy his wife, doesn’t like Lenny from the start, and George warns Lenny to stay clear of both Curley and his wife. One of the other workers gives Lenny a newborn puppy, which stays in the barn with its mother. After Curley picks a fight with Lenny and Lenny breaks Curley’s hand, Curley goes to the hospital and Lenny seeks to comfort himself by stroking his puppy, which he has unknowingly killed. Curley’s wife enters the barn and flirts with Lenny.


She lets him pet her hair, as he had petted the puppy, but he won’t release her hair when she tries to pull away. Frightened, she screams, and Lenny, trying to silence her, accidentally breaks her neck. Curley returns, and he and his men hunt for Lenny. George suspects that Lenny will go to a nearby creek. George finds him there, and kills him quickly and mercifully so that Lenny won’t fall into the hands of the sadistic Curley. This is a short and enjoyable, if somewhat sentimental, novel, that illustrates the difficulty of the uneducated poor and their attempt to better their lives. It also condemns the harsh brutality of farm owners who cared nothing for the men by whose sweat and blood they obtained and retained the profits from their farms.”

Gary Pullman, Resident Scholar 

” The novel Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck is a tale of friendship, dreams, and violence. Set in Steinbeck’s childhood home near the Salinas River of California, the main characters are George Milton and Lennie Small. The two are as different as can be: George is small and quick of mind while Lennie is an enormous man with the mind of a child. Yet together, they are a family.

As the novel opens, George and Lennie are once again on their way to work as hired ranch hands. The status quo for tramps is people who travel for work and have no future beyond working for someone else every month. But George and Lennie are working toward something. They have a dream of owning a few acres, having a home to call their own, and being the masters of their own fate. For Lennie, his childish mind delights at the prospect of tending rabbits and stroking their fur. For now, the six hundred dollars needed to attain their dream seems years away. But, at the ranch they meet Candy, an old man, who adds 350 bucks when he joins them in planning to purchase the land and suddenly the dream is within reach.

OM-George-Lennie-0404A-captioncrop.jpg.644x2400_q100Although George’s life would be less complicated if he didn’t have to take care of Lennie, he can never leave him. George tries to teach Lennie how to behave in a way that is acceptable to society. As they approach the job site, George warns Lennie not to say a word and let George do all the talking At the ranch, they meet the boss’s son, Curley who is a cruel little man Curley despises men of large girth and focuses on Lennie as his victim. One time in a rage, he comes to the bunkhouse and picks a fight with Lennie. As Curley rains blows on Lennie, George commands Lennie to defend himself. Lennie does not know his own strength and crushes Curley¡¦s hand. Another source of worry to George is Curley¡¦s wife. She is lonely for companionship yet all the men view her as a tart and her conduct as flirtatious. But in the end, George cannot protect Lennie from the explosive events that follow and must act out of love.

One day, Lennie accidentally brings about the death of Curley’s wife. Lennie is stroking her hair when she begins screaming. Lennie cannot conceive to let go and unintentionally breaks her neck as he covers her mouth to silence her. An angry mob lead by Curley commences to hunt for Lennie, intent on killing him. George finds Lennie near the Salinas River which is their meeting place should there be any trouble. Lennie anticipates George to be upset but he responds His voice choked with emotion, George bades Lennie to look toward the river and imagine their dream coming to reality. He wants Lennie to envision a place where there is no cruelty and Lennie can be accepted as himself. George discerns that if Lennie were to be caught, Curley would make certain to cause Lennie pain and anguish. This time George cannot protect Lennie. Out of mercy, George kills Lennie, drawing his strength from the love they share for one another.

Joanna , Resident Scholar 

“This book actually has two main characters, ranchhands who are looking for work in Depression-era California. George is a small, quick man with big dreams, not of ever getting rich but of one day owning his own piece of land. Lennie is a huge dope (he is in fact mentally disabled). He likes little furry creatures. When the story opens, they’re on their way to a new job on a ranch. Steinbeck slowly lets us find out about their relationship. Although George sometimes picks on Lennie, he also watches out for him. They are in fact true friends.


When they get to the ranch, George and Lennie meet a variety of characters, including Slim, who will head their crew and who wonders why the two of them go around together. (This is one of the most interesting aspects of this book – the interest in, even the hankering after, other loners have in their friendship). They make friends with the old man Candy and Crooks, the only black man who lives apart from the rest of the ranchhands. Crooks is in fact the only black man in the area. They also encounter Curley, a lout, who’s the boss’s son, and his wife, Candy, a looker, who makes trouble.”

Ann Gaines, Resident Scholar 

“Lennie and George are wheat buckers in the 1930’s. They travel around together even though they are very different; Lennie is big, but mentally retarded and George is small, but very smart.   Lennie also has a problem, because he is retarded, he does not know what he should not do, so he gets in a lot of trouble.   He relies on George and does everything George tells him. They get a job in a new place and meet Slim, the leader of the worker, and Curley, the boss’s son who has a very horny wife.   George likes Slim, but thinks that both Curley and Curley’s wife will easily make trouble for Lennie, and he is right.

Curley comes inside when he is in a bad mood and walks right up to Lennie and accuses him of cheating with his wife. When Lennie doesn’t say anything because George told him not to, Curley punches him repeatedly.   George tells Lennie to protect himself, so Lennie grabs Curley’s hand and squeezes it and won’t let go because he is so scared.

Finally after George slaps him multiple times, he lets go, but Curley’s had is broken.   Then, later, when Lennie is in the barn, Curley’s wife comes in and flirts with Lennie, then she tells him that her hair is really soft because he said he liked soft things, so Lennie starts to pet her hair like one would a Puppy.   Then he starts to pet to hard and she yells. Then because Lennie is scared he grabs hold of her hair and shakes her to get her to stop screaming because he doesn’t know better.   He ends up breaking her neck and killing her.

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John Steinbeck

DOB: February 27, 1902 – December 20, 1968

John Steinbeck (1902-1968), born in Salinas, California, came from a family of moderate means. He worked his way through college at Stanford University but never graduated. In 1925 he went to New York, where he tried for a few years to establish himself as a free-lance writer, but he failed and returned to California. After publishing some novels and short stories, Steinbeck first became widely known with Tortilla Flat(1935), a series of humorous stories about Monterey paisanos.

Steinbeck’s novels can all be classified as social novels dealing with the economic problems of rural labour, but there is also a streak of worship of the soil in his books, which does not always agree with his matter-of-fact sociological approach. After the rough and earthy humour of Tortilla Flat, he moved on to more serious fiction, often aggressive in its social criticism, to In Dubious Battle (1936), which deals with the strikes of the migratory fruit pickers on California plantations. This was followed by Of Mice and Men (1937), the story of the imbecile giant Lennie, and a series of admirable short stories collected in the volume The Long Valley (1938). In 1939 he published what is considered his best work, The Grapes of Wrath, the story of Oklahoma tenant farmers who, unable to earn a living from the land, moved to California where they became migratory workers.

Among his later works should be mentioned East of Eden (1952), The Winter of Our Discontent(1961), and Travels with Charley (1962), a travelogue in which Steinbeck wrote about his impressions during a three-month tour in a truck that led him through forty American states. He died in New York City in 1968.

From Nobel Lectures, Literature 1901-1967, Editor Horst Frenz, Elsevier Publishing Company, Amsterdam, 1969

This autobiography/biography was written at the time of the award and first published in the book seriesLes Prix Nobel. It was later edited and republished in Nobel Lectures. To cite this document, always state the source as shown above.

John Steinbeck died on December 20, 1968.

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