Of Mice And Men Essay Research Paper

Of Mice And Men Essay, Research Paper




This book is set in two places. It starts beside a stream, close to the Salinas River, a few miles

South of Soledad. It then moves to a ranch, where the major part of the story is set. At the end of

the novel, the setting comes back to where it started.

The stream introduces George and Lennie. They are on their way to a near-by ranch. The

surrounding land is thick in vegetation and has its own wild life. Men frequent it, as there are ash

piles made by many fires and the limbs of the sycamore tree have been smoothed by the many

men who have sat on it.

The ranch, where the major part of the story takes place, appears isolated and lonely. It includes

a ranch house, a bunkhouse where the ranch workers live, a barn, and a harness-room off the



Major Characters

George – the protagonist and main character of the book. He is a caring, compassionate, and

understanding human being who dreams of owning his own piece of land.

Lennie – the obedient friend of George. He has a child’s mind and a giant’s body. It is these

contrasting qualities that cause him problems.

Old Candy – one of the lonely ranch workers. He is a cripple, working as a ‘Swamper’.

Crooks – a black ranch hand. He is sensible and neat, with a mind of his own. He is a lonely

character, who is discriminated against, due to his race.

Slim – a ranch worker with leadership qualities. He commands respect from all on the ranch.

Curley – the boss’s son who is a light weight boxer. He picks fights with everybody on the ranch.

Curley’s wife – the only woman on the ranch. She is very flirtatious.

Minor Characters

Carlson – a brutal man. He objects to Candy keeping his old dog.

Whit – a ranch worker. He is sent to town to fetch the Sheriff after Curley’s wife is murdered.

The Boss – a ‘mice fella’ (in Candy’s words). He is more concerned about his work on the ranch

than anyone else.


Protagonist: The protagonist of the story is George. He is the kind-hearted ranch hand who is

concerned about his friend Lennie and watches out for him.

Antagonist: The antagonist of the story is George’s trying to care for the handicapped Lennie.

Because he has a giant’s body and a child’s mind, Lennie accidentally kills Curley’s wife; at the

same time he kills the dream of owning a farm that has kept George and Lennie positive about

the future

Climax: The climax occurs when Lennie accidentally kills Curley’s wife. George knows that he

can no longer save Lennie, for Curley will want revenge.

Outcome: Of Mice and Men ends in tragedy. George feels compelled to mercifully kill his

friend and companion, Lennie, in order to save him from a brutal death. The death of Lennie also

marks the death of the beautiful dream they have been nurturing.


The dominant mood of the story is that of expectation. This mood is developed through the

dreams of the major characters. The other mood that prevails is premonitory, of impending

doom. There are also other moods evoked through the actions of the characters reflecting sorrow,

pity, and brutality. The novel ends on a tragic note. The mood at the end is definitely one of

depression and frustration.

PLOT (Synopsis)

One evening, two men, on their way to a ranch, stop at a stream near the Salinas River. George,

who is short and dark, leads the way. The person following him is Lennie, a giant of a man with

huge arms. During their conversation by the stream, George repeatedly asks Lennie to keep his

mouth shut on the ranch, suggesting that Lennie has some kind of problem. After supper and

before going to sleep, the two of them talk about their dream to own a piece of land.

The next day, George and Lennie travel to the ranch to start work. They are given two beds in

the bunkhouse. Then Old Candy introduces them to almost everybody on the ranch. They meet

the boss and the boss’s son Curley, who is quite rude. They also meet Curley’s wife when she

comes looking for her husband. She wears heavy make-up and possesses a flirtatious attitude.

George warns Lennie to behave his best around Curley and his wife. He also suggests that they

should meet by the pool if anything unfortunate happens to either of them on the ranch.

George and Lennie are assigned to work with Slim, who is sensible and ‘civilized’ and talks with

authority. George finds Slim an understanding confidante, and a bond forms between the two of

them. When Curley wrongly accuses Slim for talking to his wife, Slim gets very angry. Curley

apologizes to him in the bunkhouse in front of everybody, but his apology is rejected. Curley

vents his frustration on Lennie, trying to pick a fight. Lennie does not hit back initially, but when

George asks him to, Lennie obliges and crushes Curley’s hand. Curley agrees that he will not tell

anyone about his hand, for it would mean losing his self-respect.

While working on the ranch, George and Lennie continue to dream about owning their own piece

of land and make plans accordingly. Old Candy, one of the ranch hands, overhears their planning

and asks to join them. He even offers to contribute all of his savings to purchase the land. George

and Lennie accept his proposal.

One evening, Lennie, looking for his puppy, enters the room of Crooks; since he is the only

black man on the ranch, Crooks lives alone, segregated from the other ranch workers. Candy

enters, looking for Lennie; the two of them tell Crooks about their dream of owning their own

ranch, but Crooks tells them that it will never happen, foreshadowing the truth. Curley’s wife

comes in and interrupts them. When Crooks objects to her presence in his room, she threatens

him with a false rape charge.

Later on, Lennie is seen alone in the barn, petting his dead pup. He has unintentionally killed it

by handling it too hard. Now he is grieving over the loss. Curley’s wife walks into the barn and

strikes up a conversation with Lennie. As they talk, she asks him to stroke her hair. She panics

when she feels Lennie’s strong hands. When she raises her voice to him, Lennie covers her

mouth. In the process, he accidentally breaks her neck and she dies. Knowing he has done

something terrible, he leaves the ranch. When the ranch hands learn that Curley’s wife has been

killed, they rightly guess the guilty party. Led by an angry Curley, they all go out to search for

Lennie. They plan to murder him in retribution.

George guesses where Lennie is and races to the pool. To save him from the brutal assaults of

the ranch hands, George mercifully kills his friend himself. Hearing the gunshot, the searchers

converge by the pool. They praise George for his act. Only Slim understands the actual purpose

of George’s deed.


Major Theme

The major theme of the book, Of Mice and Men, is that a dream, no matter how impossible to

obtain, can forge friendship and give meaning to life. George and Lennie dream of owning a

little farm of ten acres, with a windmill, a little shack, an orchard, and animals. The dream keeps

them going and lightens the load of their work. It also solidifies their friendship.

Minor Themes

One of the minor themes is the tragedy of mental retardation. Lennie never intends to harm

anything, neither the puppy nor Curley’s wife. He is simply too slow to realize his own strength.

His retardation is the cause of his downfall and death, in spite of George’s trying to help him stay

out of trouble.

The pain of loneliness is another theme of the book. All the main characters, including George,

Lennie, Candy, Crooks, Curley’s wife, and Slim, express the sadness caused by their feelings of

loneliness. The craving for company and the longing for sharing real emotions make these

characters very human.



Born on February 27, 1902, in Salinas, California, John Ernest Steinbeck was the third of four

children. Though poor, Steinbeck had a normal childhood and attended public school, graduating

from Salinas High School in 1919. As a student, he had an inclination towards reading and

writing, which was encouraged by his mother, a schoolteacher herself. He was a frequent

contributor to the school magazine.

Steinbeck studied at Stanford University from 1920 to1925. Although he intended to become a

marine biologist, he never completed a degree. The courses that attracted his attention most were

zoology, English, and classical literature. While at Stanford, he wrote frequently and was often

published in the college newspaper. After leaving the University, he worked at a variety of jobs.

He went to New York, determined to become a writer. Between 1925 and 1927, he attempted to

earn a living as a reporter and a free-lance writer, but was unsuccessful. Disappointed, he left

New York and returned to the West Coast, where he met his first wife, Carol.

Steinbeck’s first novel, Cup of Gold (1929), is based on the life of Sir Henry Morgan, a famous

English pirate of the sixteen hundreds. His next work, The Pastures of Heaven (1932), is a

collection of stories about the people on a farm community near Salinas. In this work, Steinbeck

focuses on the struggle between human beings and nature. These first two books received scant

attention. Finally in 1933, Steinbeck achieved success with his short story “The Red Pony.”

Steinbeck’s next novel, Tortilla Flat (1935), dealt with the migrant workers and poor farmers. In

Dubious Battle (1936) realistically portrays the labor strife in California during the nineteen

thirties. This novel also sets forth Steinbeck’s concept of “group humanity” through the character

of Doc Burton. This concern reappears in The Grapes of Wrath (1939) and The Sea of Cortez

(1941). Of Mice and Men (1937) became a best seller and was adapted for the stage and a movie.

In 1940 Steinbeck went on an expedition to the Gulf of California (also called The Sea of

Cortez) with his friend Ed Ricketts, a marine biologist. Steinbeck shared with him a deep interest

in biology. The result of this trip was a joint publication, The Sea of Cortez: A Leisurely Journal

of Travel and Research. The book is in two parts. The first part narrates the voyage and records

various conversations and speculations, and the second part describes the marine organisms

collected by the men.

Other works include Cannery Row (1944), The Wayward Bus (1947), The Pearl (1947), Burning

Bright (1950), East of Eden (1952), Sweet Thursday (1954), and The Winter of Our Discontent

(1961). East of Eden is Steinbeck’s longest and most ambitious work. It follows three generations

of a Californian family from 1860 to the First World War. The title refers to the family strife,

which parallels the conflict between the Biblical figures of Cain and Abel.

Steinbeck received the Pulitzer Prize in 1940 and the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1962. He died

on December 20, 1968, and is buried in Salinas, California, the place of his birth and setting for

many of his novels.


Started with a tentative title of Something that Happened, the book, Of Mice and Me, took the

form of an extended short story. Steinbeck rejected the initial version of the story, for he felt that

he had been unable to keep his own voice and viewpoint out of its narration. Steinbeck reworked

and expanded the story, adding more characters. He also added more dialogue, taking particular

care to reflect the accent and dialect of uneducated farm workers. It is said that a large section of

the book was rewritten by Steinbeck again, for his original manuscript was chewed up by his


The working title of the book, Something that Happened, was changed when his best friend Ed

Ricketts suggested the present title and introduced him to Robert Burns’ poem ‘To a Mouse’. The

words of the poem are as follows:

The best laid schemes o’mice and men

Gang aft agley.

And leave us nought but grief and pain

For promised joy.

The poet talks about man’s enslavement to forces of nature which he cannot control, destroying

hopes and dreams. This is what happens with George and Lennie.



The book opens with a detailed geographic description of the countryside around the Salinas

River, a few miles south of Soledad. As two men walk from the dusty road to the cooling stream,

the native rabbits scurry away. George, a short man, is seen first. He has sharp features with a

thin and bony nose and restless eyes. He also has strong hands and slender arms. George is

followed by Lennie, a huge man, built like a bear. His giant arms hang like pendulums at his

side. Both men are dressed in denim trousers, denim coats with brass buttons, black hats, and

blankets, which are wrapped around round their necks.

Lennie is thirsty and dips his mouth into the green water, drinking like a horse. George stops

him, for the stream appears stagnant. George remarks that Lennie would drink from a gutter if he

were thirsty. George refreshes himself and lies down to rest. Lennie splashes in the water and

then joins George.

When George talks about going to the ranch, the forgetful Lennie does not seem to understand.

When Lennie inquires once more about what they are going to do there, George grows impatient.

Lennie apologizes, saying that he tries hard not to forget things. George explains to him once

again that they are going to work on a ranch, which is located nearby. He warns Lennie to refrain

from talking to anyone at the ranch and begs him to behave.

George notices Lennie reaching into his pocket and asks him to hand over whatever he is hiding

there. Lennie hands him a dead mouse that he has found along the road and put in his pocket to

pet. George throws it away in disgust. He then reminds Lennie that whenever he pets things, it

seems to get both of them in trouble, as it did on their last job. Lennie has already forgotten what

has happened there.

George sends Lennie to look for some sticks so they can build a fire and prepare dinner. When

he returns, George sees that he is wet and carrying only one stick. He immediately knows that

Lennie has retrieved the dead mouse from where he has hurled it. George asks for the mouse,

and Lennie resists giving it to him. George explains that a dead mouse is not a fit pet and

demands that Lennie hand it over, which he does reluctantly. George then sends Lennie off to

look for wood again. When Lennie returns with enough sticks, they build a fire and warm up

three cans of beans for supper. While the beans are heating, Lennie asks for ketchup to go on his

beans, even though it should be obvious that they have none. George is suddenly irritated with

his friend’s slowness and angrily explains all the things he could do without Lennie, including

going to a “cat house”, drinking lots of whiskey, and keeping a job.

Lennie knows that he has put George in a foul mood. Although he does not understand why

George is angry, he still tries to make up, saying that he will go away to some far-off hills and

live in a cave if George does not want them to stay together. George is touched by his friend’s

simplicity and honesty and reacts in a very understanding manner. He reassures Lennie that he

does not want him to go away. Lennie then asks George to tell him again about their dream.

George explains how the two of them are going to save their money and buy a ten acre farm,

where they can raise rabbits, cows, pigs, chicken, and cherries.

After dinner, George decides they should spend the night by the stream and head to the ranch in

the morning. He then reminds Lennie again about not talking to other people on the ranch. He

also tells him that if there is ever trouble on the ranch, Lennie should return to this same site and

hide in the near-by bushes, where George will come and find him. Lennie promises to remember

the place. They drift peacefully off to sleep, thinking about the little farm they want to own.


The book opens with a detailed description of the physical landscape around the Salinas River,

which Steinbeck knew very well. He then gives a physical description of the two major

characters, contrasting George’s small stature and Lennie’s giant body. George appears first,

leading his friend and suggesting that he is in control. Almost immediately, it becomes obvious

as to why, for Lennie is slow. Steinbeck describes him eagerly snorting water from the stagnant

stream as if he were a horse. When he sees what Lennie is doing, George commands him to stop,

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