Of mice and men

Of Mice and Men, John Steinbeck, Steinbeck, Interpretation, book report, buch interpretation

The author and person John Steinbeck:

John Steinbeck was born in Salinas, California on February 27, 1902. Salinas is between San Francisco and Los Angeles. His father was a farmer and a treasurer of Monterey and his mother who inspired him to love books, for example Crime and Punishment, Pa-radise Lost and Le Morte d'Arthur, plaid an important role in his future development. Be-sides books, he had also another big love - nature. During vacation he worked on farms and ranches and so he built up a close relationship to the plants and the creatures which grew and lived on these farms. This is reflected in his writings, especially in The Red Pony, The Pastures of Heaven, and Of Mice and Men. In each of these works the natu-ral settings are places of life and death, places that human beings can enter.

Steinbeck's career can generally be divided into three periods: 1. the years before he became famous from 1929 to 1934; 2. the years of growing fame from 1935 to 1945; and 3. the years of continued popularity until his death in 1968.

All the books he wrote in the 1930s during the Great Depression are influenced by po-verty and rootlessness of his characters. In 1939, two years after Of Mice and Men, Steinbeck wrote his most important work, The Grapes of Wrath. It was powerful, contro-versial, and, most of all, popular. It reflected best the problems of the Great Depression and no other book could match the power and the scope of this book.

After the publication of his last novel in 1961, John Steinbeck was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1962. The award noted Steinbeck's " great feeling for nature, for the tilled soil, the wasteland, the mountains, and the ocean coasts...in the midst of and beyond the world of human beings ".

John Steinbeck was 66 years, when he died on December 20, 1968 in New York. The most important works were: Tortilla Flat, a novel which he wrote in 1935, in which he portrays a community of poor Mexicans in Monterey; Of Mice and Men, a novel and play which he finished in 1937; and two years later another world famous novel, The Grapes of Wrath, in which he describes the desperate migration and vain effort of impoverished farmers of Oklahomas trying to settle in California. This novel is generally considered to be his most important work.

John Steinbeck always planned to be a writer. After leaving university he started working as a reporter but also accepted odd jobs like that of a labourer or farm hand, which pro-vided him with background knowledge. In his lifetime he wrote thousands of letters, so-metimes even six or seven a day, but he never wrote an autobiography, but all his pieces include parts of his life story. The settings of most of his books are the areas near Sali-nas, CA and Monterey, CA, where Steinbeck was born and lived most of his life. In his dramatic works Steinbeck combines social criticism with the belief in the good of each human being.

The Plot

George Milton and Lennie Small are two travelling farm workers on the way to their new job on a Californian ranch. On a Friday evening they decide to spend the night under the open sky along the banks of the Salinas River, which is a few miles south of Soledad. The next morning they have to report to the ranch on which they are going to work the next weeks.

As soon as they sat down the two men start to discuss their future plans. During this conversation it becomes clear that they are quite different. George is small, quick and smart and he manages all, the talking and the thinking, for the pair. Lennie is the total opposite of George. He is a big guy, but also slow-witted. He follows George' s words like a well trained and faithful dog.

George and Lennie have been travelling together now for a long time, and Lennie always seems to get them into trouble. Lennie likes to pet soft things like dead mice, which Ge-orge takes away in the first scene of the book or soft dresses of young ladies. We also see in the first scene that George and Lennie are forced to leave the last ranch because Lennie is touching the dress of a young girl in the town of Weed, California. Weed is pretty close to Bakersfield.

During the dinner, only some hot canned beans, George gives Lennie some instructions, how he has to behave and act in the new job. Lennie is not allowed to say a word and he has also to avoid any trouble, and if ever something bad happens, he has to return to the riverbank and hide there in the bushes until Geoge comes and looks for him. After those instructions Lennie asks George to explain why they are different than other farm wor-kers and how they will have a farm of their own one day, on which Lennie is allowed to tend rabbits. While George is discribing their dreams his enthusiam grows little by little with Lenie's.

The next morning they appear on the farm where they are welcomed by an old man na-med Candy and his old dog. Candy tells them a lot about the ranch and the people living on the ranch. During this conversation the boss comes in and he is angry because Ge-orge and Lennie were not on the ranch for the morning shift. George has to lie and says that the bus driver gave them the wrong directions. The boss asks them some questions and George is the only person to answer those, even those questions which are directed towards Lennie. The boss gets more and more suspicious of them and when Lennie answers one question by repeating George's words in his unintelligent way George glan-ces at him and later scolds Lennie for doing that.

Shortly after the boss left his son Curley comes in, looking for his father. Curley also starts questioning George and Lennie, but he also tries to start a fist fight with Lennie. But this time Lennie does not care about Curley, but George gets nervous about the po-tential dangers which Curley presents and he tells Lennie to stay away from Curley and when he enters the room he should leave the room. George also advises Lennie again if he is in any trouble that he should go to the riverbank and hide there in the bushes.

The next person to enter the bunk house is Curley's wife pretending to look after her husband but really to show off her beauty. George and Candy tell her to leave them alo-ne, but Lennie defends her and tries to help her. George tells Lennie to ignore her totally, but Lennie does not understand why he cannot talk to her or anybody so he says: " It's mean here, " and Lennie wants to leave but George tells him they will leave as soon as they have saved some money so they can buy the little farm.

Another person to enter the bunk house is Slim. He is the person in charge. He is sur-prised that George and Lennie travel together, because that is something that does not happen too often among ranch workers. We also hear that Slim's dog had a litter of pup-pies and Slim and Carlson think about shooting Candy's dog and give him a new puppy. Lennie is also interested in those little puppies and George agrees to ask Slim if Lennie can have one.

Slim and George start a conversation in the bunk house during their conversation Geor-ge describes the friendship which he has with Lennie. George knows that Lennie is not the brightest and fastest one, but George likes Lennie as a good friend. While they are talking, Lennie enters the room with a puppy under his shirt and George tells him not to pet the puppies too hard, because he is going to kill them.

When all the men are in the bunk house, Carlson tries to convince Candy that it would be best to shoot his old dog, because it is the best for the old dog which cannot eat, hear and see any more. In return Candy will get one of Slim's puppies which he can raise. When George tells Lennie once more the future plans about the farm Candy hears it and offers half of the money if he can be part of this plan and so this impossible plan seems pretty close to be realized.

All the sudden they get interupted by Curley who is looking for his wife this time and the only thing he sees is the smiling Lennie who is smiling about the rabbits he is going to have. But Curley thinks that the big guy is making fun of him and so Curley starts a fight. He starts hitting Lennie, but Lennie doesn't care because George told him not to touch Curley. As soon as George tells Lennie to hit back he takes Curley's hand and crushes it.

After all the guys, except Lenny and Candy, have left the ranch and gone to a brothel in town Lennie enters Crooks' room. A black ranch worker who does not like Lennie be-cause he enters his privacy, but he changes his mind after Lennie talks to him with is innocent humor. Crooks describes his situation as a black ranch worker and Lennie tells him something about the farm and his rabbits which he is going to tend. After Crooks has heard the story he decides that he wants to be a part of that plan, too. During this conversation Curley's wife enters the room looking for some entertainment. Candy and Crook tell her to leave Crook's private room but she starts to play a game with Lennie. She finally leaves when George returns from town but he is angry because Lennie and Candy shared their dream with Crook.

During next day's afternoon Lennie brakes the neck of the little puppy because he pets it too hard. So all the trouble that George has been predicted becomes true now. Shortly after Lennie killed the little puppy, he tries to hide the dead dog under the hay in the barn. As he tries to hide the puppy Curley's wife enters the barn and they start a conversation. Curley's wife talks about her situation out on the ranch and that this life is nothing for a girl like her. She also tries to seduce Lennie and as she learns that Lennie loves to touch soft things, she lets him touch her hair and Lennie does so. Because he loves that so much he cannot stop and always holds on too tight. So the the woman starts to yell and scream. Lennie panics now and breaks her neck as he did it with the puppy. Lennie rea-lizes that he did something bad. So he runs away to the riverbank, like George had told him before. After a while Candy finds the dead puppy and the dead body of the woman. The first person he informs is George, because he is Lennies best friend and knows always what to do. But there is also another reason. Candy wants to know if they are still going to buy the farm even without Lennie. George knows inside that this will never hap-pen now. George tells Candy to wait there a few minutes before he will tell the others because he wants to be the person who finds Lennie. George also knows where Lennie hides and that the others will lynch Lennie. Before George leaves the ranch he steals Carlson's Luger, the gun that was used to shoot Candy's old dog. When Candy and the others enter the barn they are so angry that they insist on a lynching and Candy tries to convince them that they should Lennie lock up so that he cannot do such bad things again. But Curley insists on killing Lennie and they all go out looking for Lennie.

The last scene has the same setting as the first one, the Salina's riverbank. We see Lennie how he has several visions what George is going to do with him, for example no more rabbits for him or that George is going to leave him behind. When George arrives Lennie comes out of the bushes and George does not yell at him at all. George just starts telling him about the dream they have and tells Lennie to look on the other side of the river and imagine the farm and everything else. As soon as Lennie turns his head towards the other side of the river George raises Carlson's gun shoots Lennie in the back of his head. George tells the others that Lennie had had Carlson's Luger. After he has taken it away from him, he had to shoot Lennie because he started attacking him.

The Characters

George Milton is described as a small and quick guy with sharp features. He is a per-son who knows what is going on and he is the person who has to look after Lennie be-cause if he was not there Lennie would be in trouble all the time and George would be a typical ranch hand without him. He would go to town to a whorehouse and drink some-thing like all the other ranch hands. But George seems only smart if he is together with Lennie because Lennie is so dumb. George has the dream of having his own little farm and every time he talks about it he gets emotional. George first thinks about something before he is going to do it.

Lennie Small is anything but small. He is a huge and slow thinking guy. He is a big guy who is often decribed with animal images like: he drinks like horse or his hands are cal-led paws. Lennie is a person you have to look after. Before George, there was his aunt Clara who looked after him. Steinbeck also often uses the term child to describe Lennie. The most important part of his body are his hands because he likes to touch soft things but he also breaks the puppy's and the neck of Curley's wife. Lennie is a really calm per-son. He likes to play with his puppy and he gets in trouble when George is not around. Lennie is the total opposite of George. Lennie lives in a kind of illusion, he always sees his rabbits which he is going to have.

The two persons George and Lennie are the most important characters in the novel. They are both normal ranch workers who are travelling around together to find new jobs. They both need each other because they are not able to live alone. George and Lennie have such a close relationship that is impossible for them to live alone.


Slim is a tall, quiet and thin person. He is almost the head of the ranch. He knows what is best for the ranch, for example the thing with Candy's dog or what they have to do with Lennie when he killed Curley's wife. Slim knows what is going on in a person just by loo-king at him " Slim looked through George and beyond him. " All the others show respect torwards Slim. Slim is a person who you can talk to and you even can tell your secrets as George did. Slim even understands why George shoots Lennie.


The first thing we learn about Carlson is that he has a big belly. Carlson is a rude person and totally egoistic. He wants to kill Candy's dog because it stinks and not because it is so old and sick. He has a rude and insensitive personality. For example he shows how he is going to shoot Candy's dog.


He is probably the oldest person in the book. We also learn that he has a really old dog which is going to be shot. He is an outcast because he has only one hand and because of his old age. He is afraid of becoming worthless for the ranch world and so he is happy when he hears of the plan Lenny and George have. He brings them close to their dream because he offers them his savings to finance the little farm. Candy has the same close relationship to his dog like George has to Lennie. Both Candy and George lose their fri-ends in a same way: they both get shot in the head. After Lennie' s death Candy tries to convince George to stick to the plan of their own little farm.


He is the other outcast in the story because he is a black man and he gets also harras-sed like Candy. Crooks is proud that he has no relationship to slaves because his father had his own property in California. He has his own little bunk house but only because he is black. It is a kind of discrimination, but Crooks sees it the other way round. For him it is an honour to have is own little place. After Lennie invades Crooks' room, he is making fun of Lennie, but then he changes his attitude towards Lennie and George. He also asks as Candy did before, if he can be part of the dream. After Lennie's death Crooks deserts the dream of an own little ranch.

Whit and the Boss are two minor figures in the novel. Whit tells us something about the workers and how they spend Saturday nights in whorehouses and saloons. The Boss acts like a boss and we only see him at the biginning of of Act I scene 2. The only thing we learn about him is that he is suspicous of George and Lennie.

Curley's wife

We do not learn much about her because the author did not even give her a name, she always appears as " Curley's wife ". Nobody is interested in her except of Lennie. Lennie is not interested in the person, he is only interested in the soft things she wears. She has a mean personality because she tries to get the others in trouble for exmaple Crooks. She is saying that he messes around with white ladies. Curley's wife is also the end of George's and Lenie's dream because Lennie kills her.

Curley himself thinks he is something special because he is the Boss' son. He picks on people smaller than him and thinks that is funny. We see that he cannot control his wife and that he spends Saturday nights with the others in town instead of looking after his wife.

The Setting

The action of the novel takes place on or near a ranch in the Salinas Valley of California, south of S. F.. The time period is never mentioned but it is probably during the Great Depression because Lennie and George embody everything which is indicative of that time.

There are three main locations - along the banks of Salina River, in the ranch house and in the barn.

Act I

Scene 1: It is Thursday night and it shows the banks of Salinas River.

Scene 2: Friday morning in the bunk house of the ranch.

Act II

Scene 1: See Act I, scene 2: Friday night

Scene 2: Saturday night in Crooks' room


Scene 1: Sunday afternoon in the barn

Scene 2: see Act I, scene 1, Sunday night

Formal aspects and structure

The novel Of Mice and Men is told from an objective, third person point of view. We know that Of Mice and Men is also a play. So we see in the book that the characters re-veal themselves through their dialogue.

The book is a play in a novel form. It is divided into six chapters. We could also call the chapters scenes because they all begin with a description of the setting and the action is presented through dialogue. The dialogue always leads to a calm resolution or to a dra-matic moment and the end of the chapter is right after the climax of the chapter. The fact that in Of Mice and Men the opening and the final scenes take place by the river is a matter of cyclic structure; so is the composition of the individual chapters which begin and end with a description of the place, serving as a stage for the entries and exits of the persons.

Another thing to mention is the technique of foreshadowing. For Steinbeck foreshado-wing is a device to keep the story moving along. For example the killing of the little puppy foreshadows the killing of Curley's wife.

Imagery is used to create a 'picture in words'. Among the various types of imagery are:

a) simile, which is a comparison between two unlike objects, grammatically connected by like or as ( "... snorting like a horse " )

b) metaphor: an implied comparison expressing one word through a more vivid one ("The afternoon sliced in through the cracks of the barn wall"), or treating two things or spheres as identical ( e.g. when Lennie's arms and hands are called 'pendula' )

c) symbol: an object or character which represents something beyond its literal meaning. Most definitely the ' dream ranch ' and Lennie's rabbits have symbolic level.

Steinbeck's style in Of Mice and Men is conversational and direct. The characters use colloquial speech and the chracteristic American slang. They behave and speak in a natural way. The style fits perfectly with the " common- man theme ".

Steinbeck also hides some main ideas and themes in his novel, for example the idea of the common man. Steinbeck never tries to make them seem more important than they really are. He wants to show the problems of the common man in that time and that there is no hope for them. The author perhaps indicates the theme of the Amercian Dream, because Lennie and George dream of a small ranch. They try to achieve their dream by working hard and saving money.


John Steinbeck's " Of Mice and Men " p. 84- 93

Kindlers Literatur Lexikon Hauptwerke der amerikanischen Literatur S. 260- 261

Brockhaus Nr. 17 S. 243


Warren French's " John Steinbeck "

Steinbeck Research Center - San Jose State University by Martha Hearly Cox

David Minster's " A Cultural History of the American Novel " p. 188- 190

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