You should be able to flick straight to the correct pages so that you can find useful quotations and ideas. Remember – don’t just re-tell the story. You don’t get many marks for this. You will only get a ‘C’ grade if you explain HOW the story is written, using P. E. E to structure and develop your ideas. Of Mice and Men: Plot summary The novel opens with two men, George Milton and Lennie Small, walking to a nearby ranch where harvesting jobs are available. George, the smaller man, leads the way and makes the decisions for Lennie, a mentally handicapped giant.
They stop at a stream for the evening, deciding to go to the ranch in the morning. Lennie, who loves to pet anything soft, has a dead mouse in his pocket. George takes the mouse away from Lennie and reminds him of the trouble Lennie got into in the last town they were in—he touched a girl’s soft dress. George then reminds Lennie not to speak to anyone in the morning when they get to the ranch and cautions Lennie to return to this place by the river if anything bad happens at the ranch. When he has to take the dead mouse away from Lennie a second time, George moans at the hardship of taking care of Lennie.
After calming his anger, George relents and promises Lennie they will try to find him a puppy; then he tells Lennie about their dream of having a little farm where they can be their own boss and nobody can tell them what to do, where Lennie will tend their rabbits, and where they will “live off the fatta the lan’. ” Lennie has heard this story so often he can repeat it by heart. And George emphasizes that this dream and their relationship make them different from other guys who don’t have anyone or a place of their own. They settle down and sleep for the night.
The next morning at the ranch, the boss becomes suspicious when George answers all the questions and Lennie does not talk. George explains that Lennie is not bright but is a tremendous worker. They also meet Candy, an old swamper with a sheep dog; Crooks, the black stable hand; the boss’ son Curley, who is an amateur boxer and has a bad temper; Curley’s wife, who has a reputation as a “tart”; Carlson, another ranch hand; and Slim, the chief mule skinner. Upon seeing Curley’s wife, Lennie is fascinated with her and George warns him to stay away from her and Curley.
That evening, Carlson complains bitterly about Candy’s dog, which is old, arthritic, and smells. He offers to kill the dog for Candy, and Candy reluctantly agrees to let him do so. Later, after the others have gone to the barn, hoping to witness a fight between Slim and Curley over Curley’s wife, Lennie and George are alone in the bunkhouse. Lennie wants to hear the story of their farm again, and George retells the dream. Candy overhears and convinces George and Lennie to let him in on the plan because he has money for a down payment.
George excitedly believes that, with Candy’s money, they can swing the payment for a ranch he knows of; he figures one more month of work will secure the rest of the money they need. He cautions Lennie and Candy not to tell anyone. The ranch hands return, making fun of Curley for backing down to Slim. Curley is incensed and picks a fight with Lennie, brutally beating Lennie until George tells Lennie to fight back. Lennie smashes all the bones in Curley’s hand. Taking Curley to a doctor, Slim gets Curley’s promise to say his hand got caught in a machine so Lennie and George won’t get fired.
Lennie is afraid he has done “a bad thing” and that George won’t let him tend the rabbits. But George explains that Lennie did not mean to hurt Curley and that he isn’t in trouble. Later that week, Lennie tells Crooks about the plans to buy a farm, and Crooks says he would like to join them and work for nothing. In the middle of their conversation, Curley’s wife enters and, after Crooks tells her she isn’t welcome in his room and that if she doesn’t leave, he will ask the boss not to let her come to the barn anymore, she threatens him with lynching.
Eventually, George returns and tells her to get lost. Dejectedly remembering his place, Crooks retracts his offer. The next day, Lennie is in the barn with a dead puppy. While Lennie thinks about how he can explain the dead puppy to George, Curley’s wife enters. They talk about how they enjoy touching soft things. She tells him he can touch her hair, but when Lennie strokes it too hard and messes it up, she gets angry. She tries to jerk her head away, and, in fear, Lennie hangs on to her hair. Curley’s wife begins to scream.
To keep her from screaming, Lennie holds her so tightly he breaks her neck. Knowing he has done something bad, he goes to the hiding place by the stream. Candy finds the body of Curley’s wife and goes for George; both men immediately know what has happened. Candy knows that Curley will organize a lynching party, and George says he is not going to let them hurt Lennie. George asks Candy to wait a few minutes before he calls the others; then he slips into the bunkhouse and steals Carlson’s Luger. When Curley comes and sees his murdered wife, he vows to kill Lennie slowly and painfully.
George joins the men searching for Lennie. As they spread out, George alone goes straight for the riverside where he finds Lennie. Lennie knows he has done “a bad thing” and expects George to scold and lecture him. George, however, is so overcome with remorse that he cannot scold Lennie but must save him from Curley’s cruelty. He tells Lennie to look across the river and imagine their little farm. George describes it, as he has done many times before, and while Lennie is smiling with pleasure and envisioning the rabbits he will tend, George shoots Lennie at the back of his neck.
The others arrive, and George leads them to believe Lennie had Carlson’s gun which George wrestled away from him and shot in self-defence. Only Slim comprehends the t ruth, and he takes George off up the footpath for a drink. CONTEXT: Background and History ————————————————- The context of a novel is the background and history of when it was written. This includes the writer’s life, what was happening when he wrote the novel, and the ideas and philosophies of the time that might have affected the novel’s meanings.
This is a brief summary of the novel’s context, to help you decide why John Steinbeck wrote ‘Of Mice and Men’ in the first place, and what he wanted the reader to feel. John Steinbeck was born in 1902 in Salinas, California, a region that became the setting for much of his fiction, including Of Mice and Men. As a teenager, he spent his summers working as a hired hand on neighbouring ranches, where his experiences of rural California and its people impressed him deeply. In 1919, he enrolled at Stanford University, where he studied for the next six years before finally leaving without having earned a degree.
For the next five years, he worked as a reporter and then as caretaker for a Lake Tahoe estate while he completed his first novel, an adventure story called Cup of Gold, published in 1929. Critical and commercial success did not come for another six years, when Tortilla John Steinbeck was born in 1902 in Salinas, California, a region that became the setting for much of his fiction, including Of Mice and Men. As a teenager, he spent his summers working as a hired hand on neighbouring ranches, where his experiences of rural California and its people impressed him deeply.
In 1919, he enrolled at Stanford University, where he studied for the next six years before finally leaving without having earned a degree. For the next five years, he worked as a reporter and then as caretaker for a Lake Tahoe estate while he completed his first novel, an adventure story called Cup of Gold, published in 1929. Critical and commercial success did not come for another six years, when Tortilla Flat was published in 1935, at which point Steinbeck was finally able to support himself entirely with his writing.
Steinbeck’s best-known works deal with the plight of desperately poor California wanderers, who, despite the cruelty of their circumstances, often triumph spiritually. Always politically involved, Steinbeck followed Tortilla Flat with three novels about the plight of the California working class, beginning with In Dubious Battle in 1936. Of Mice and Men followed in 1937, and The Grapes of Wrath won the 1940 Pulitzer Prize and became Steinbeck’s most famous novel. Steinbeck sets Of Mice and Men against the backdrop of Depression-era America.
The economic conditions of the time victimized workers like George and Lennie, whose quest for land was prevented by cruel and powerful forces beyond their control, but whose tragedy was marked, ultimately, by friendship, compassion and love. Though Of Mice and Men is regarded by some as his greatest achievement, many critics argue that it suffers from one-dimensional characters and an inevitable ending, which means the lesson of the novel is more important than the people in it. Steinbeck continued writing throughout the 1940s and 1950s.
He went to Europe during World War II, then worked in Hollywood both as a filmmaker and a scriptwriter for such movies as Viva Zapata! (1950). His important later works include East of Eden (1952), a sprawling family saga set in California, and Travels with Charley (1962), a journalistic account of his tour of America. He died in New York City in 1968. The History of Migrant Farmers in California After World War I, economic and ecological forces brought many rural poor and migrant agricultural workers from the Great Plains states, such as Oklahoma, Texas, and Kansas, to California.
Following World War I, a recession led to a drop in the market price of farm crops, which meant that farmers were forced to produce more goods in order to earn the same amount of money. To meet this demand for increased productivity, many farmers bought more land and invested in expensive agricultural equipment, which plunged them into debt. The stock market crash of 1929 only made matters worse. Banks were forced to foreclose on mortgages and collect debts. Unable to pay their creditors, many farmers lost their property and were forced to find other work.
But doing so proved very difficult, since the nation’s unemployment rate had skyrocketed, peaking at nearly twenty-five percent in 1933. The increase in farming activity across the Great Plains states caused the precious soil to erode. This erosion, coupled with a seven-year drought that began in 1931, turned once fertile grasslands into a desertlike region known as the Dust Bowl. Hundreds of thousands of farmers packed up their families and few belongings, and headed for California, which, for numerous reasons, seemed like a promised land.
Migrant workers came to be known as Okies, for although they came from many states across the Great Plains, twenty percent of the farmers were originally from Oklahoma. Okies were often met with scorn by California farmers and natives, which only made their dislocation and poverty even more unpleasant. John Steinbeck immortalized the plight of one such family, the Joads, in his most famous novel, The Grapes of Wrath. In several of his novels, including Of Mice and Men, Steinbeck illustrates how challenging and often unrewarding the life of migrant farmers could be.
Just as George and Lennie dream of a better life on their own farm, the Great Plains farmers dreamed of finding a better life in California. The state’s mild climate promised a longer growing season and, with soil favourable to a wider range of crops, it offered more opportunities to harvest. Despite these promises, though, very few found it to be the land of opportunity and plenty of which they dreamed. Ranch workers in 1930s California Ranch workers in 1930s California CHARACTERS We can study what characters (note the spelling! are like in themselves, but we see them best in their relations with other people and the wider society of which they are (or fail to be) a part. Any statement about what characters are like should be backed up by evidence: quote what they say, or explain what they do (or both). Do not, however, merely retell narrative (the story) without comment. Statements of opinion should be followed by reference to events or use of quotation; quotation should be followed by explanation (if needed) and comment. This is rather mechanical, but if you do it, you will not go far wrong. In Of Mice and Men the characters are clearly drawn and memorable.
Some could be the subject of a whole essay, while others would not. Of course a question on a theme (see below) might require you to write about characters, anyway: for example, to discuss loneliness, you write about lonely people. There is, clearly, only one real relationship depicted in the novel. All the characters, save George and Lennie, are more or less in search of a relationship. We see how far their failure to find friendship or company, even, is due to general attitudes, to their circumstances, and to themselves. Lennie Small A migrant worker who is mentally handicapped, large, and very strong.
He depends on his friend George to give him advice and protect him in situations he does not understand. His enormous strength and his pleasure in petting soft animals are a dangerous combination. He shares the dream of owning a farm with George, but he does not understand the implications of that dream. George Milton A migrant worker who protects and cares for Lennie. George dreams of some day owning his own land, but he realizes the difficulty of making this dream come true. Lennie’s friend, George gives the big man advice and tries to watch out for him, ultimately taking responsibility for not only his life but also his death.
George and Lennie: detailed information The principal characters are George Milton and Lennie Small (whose name is the subject of a feeble joke: “He ain’t small”. Who says this? ). Lennie is enormously strong. He is simple (has a learning difficulty) though he is physically well co-ordinated and capable of doing repetitive manual jobs (bucking barley or driving a cultivator) with skill. Lennie has a man’s body, but a child’s outlook: he gains pleasure from “pettin’ ” soft things, even dead mice, and loves puppies and rabbits. He is dependent, emotionally, on George, who organizes his life and reassures him about their future.
Lennie can be easily controlled by firm but calm instructions, as Slim finds out. But panic in others makes Lennie panic: this happened when he tried to “pet” a girl’s dress, in Weed, and happens again twice in the narrative: first, when he is attacked by Curley, and second, when Lennie strokes the hair of Curley’s wife. Lennie’s deficiencies enable him to be accepted by other defective characters: Candy, Crooks and Curley’s wife. He poses no threat, and seems to listen patiently (because he has learned the need to pay close attention, as he remembers so little of what he hears).
As a child is comforted by a bedtime story, so George has come to comfort Lennie with a tale of a golden future. To the reader, especially today, this imagined future is very modest, yet to these men it is a dream almost impossible of fulfilment. As George has repeated the story, so he has used set words and phrases, and Lennie has learned these, too, so he is able to join in the telling at key moments (again, as young children do). George is a conscientious minder for Lennie but is of course not with him at all times; and at one such time, Lennie makes the mistake which leads to his death.
He strokes the hair of Curley’s wife (at her invitation) but does it too roughly; she panics and tries to cry out, and Lennie shakes her violently, breaking her neck. There is no proper asylum (safe place) for Lennie: Curley is vengeful, but even if he could be restrained, Lennie would face life in a degrading and cruel institution – a mental hospital, prison or home for the criminally insane. George’s killing of Lennie, supported by Slim (who says “You hadda’ ”) is the most merciful course of action. In the novel’s final chapter we have an interesting insight into Lennie’s thought.
Until now we have had to read his mind from his words and actions. Here, Steinbeck describes how first his Aunt Clara and second an imaginary talking rabbit, lecture Lennie on his stupidity and failure to respect George. From this we see how, in his confused fashion, Lennie does understand, and try to cope with, his mental weakness. George is called a “smart little guy” by Slim, but corrects this view (as he also corrects the idea that Lennie is a “cuckoo”: that is, a lunatic – Lennie is quite sane; his weakness is a lack of intelligence). George’s modesty is not false – he is bright enough to now that he isn’t especially intelligent. If he were smart, he says, “I wouldn’t be buckin’ barley for my fifty and found” (=$US 50 per month, with free board and lodging). George is not stupid, but there is no real opportunity for self-advancement, as might be achieved in the west today by education. He is, in a simple way, imaginative: his picture of the small-holding (small farm) he and Lennie will one day own, is clearly-drawn and vivid, while some of the phrases have a near-poetic quality in their simplicity, as when he begins: “Guys like us… are the loneliest guys in the world”.
Lennie is a burden to George, who frequently shows irritation and, sometimes, outright anger to him. But it is clear that George is not going to leave him. What began vaguely as a duty, after the death of Lennie’s Aunt Clara, has become a way of life: there is companionship and trust in this relationship, which makes it almost unique among the ranch-hands. George confesses to Slim how he once abused this trust by making Lennie perform degrading tricks; but after Lennie nearly drowned, having (although not able to swim) jumped, on George’s orders, into the Sacramento River, George has stopped taking advantage of Lennie’s simplicity.
At the end of the novella George confronts a great moral dilemma, and acts decisively, killing Lennie as a last act of friendship. Slim The leader of the mule team whom everyone respects. Slim becomes an ally to George and helps protect Lennie when he gets in trouble with Curley. Slim has compassion and insight, and he understands George and Lennie’s situation. He alone realizes, at the end of the novel, the reason for George’s decision. Carlson The insensitive ranch hand who shoots Candy’s dog. He owns a Luger, which George later uses to mercifully kill Lennie.
Carlson typifies the men George describes as “the loneliest guys in the world”. He is outwardly friendly, but essentially selfish. He finds the smell of an old dog offensive so the dog must be shot. He has little regard for the feelings of the dog’s owner. At the end of the novella, as Slim goes to buy George a drink, and comfort him, it is Carlson who says to Curley, “What the hell… is eatin’ them two guys? ” Candy Sometimes called “the swamper,” he is a old handyman who lost his hand in a ranch accident and is kept on the payroll.
Afraid that he will eventually be fired when he can no longer do his chores, he convinces George to let him join their dream of a farm because he can bring the necessary money to the scheme. He owns an old sheep dog that will become a symbol of Lennie before the novel ends. Candy is excluded from the social life of the ranch-hands, by his age, his disability and demeaning job, and by his own choice (“I ain’t got the poop any more”, he says when the others go into town on Saturday night). His lack of status appears when he is powerless to save his old dog from being shot.
He bitterly (and unfairly) blames Curley’s wife for the loss of his dream. Crooks The black stable worker who cares for the horses. A symbol of racial injustice, Crooks is isolated from the other hands because of his skin colour. He also convinces Lennie to let him join their dream of land, but he must give up that dream. Curley The son of the ranch owner, Curley is a mean little guy who picks fights with bigger guys like Lennie. He is recently married and extremely jealous of any man who looks at or talks with his wife. Lennie crushes his hand, earning Curley’s future enmity. Curley’s wife
The only character in the novel who is given no name, she is Curley’s possession. She taunts and provokes the ranch hands into talking with her, an action that causes Curley to beat them up. George sees her as a “tart,” but Lennie is fascinated by her soft hair and looks. She is unsympathetically portrayed as a female tease until the final scene, in which the reader hears about her earlier dreams. Lonely and restless, she married too quickly to a husband who neglects her. Curley’s wife is the most pathetic of the outsiders: unlike the others, even Lennie, she seems not to understand her limitations – or she refuses to admit them.
She still dreams of what might have been, seeing herself as a potential film-star. But she has no acting talent, men (one from a travelling show, one who claimed to be in the movies) make bogus offers as a chat-up line, and now that films require actresses to talk, her coarse speech would be a handicap. Her naivete shows in her belief that her mother has stolen a letter (from her “contact” in Hollywood) which was obviously never written; her immaturity appears in her instant reaction of marrying the loathsome Curley.