John Steinbeck - Of Mice And Men

John Steinbeck:

O f  M i c e  A n d  M e n


Lennie:           mentally retarded, very strong,         => migrant workers

George:           intelligent, feels responsible for Lennie,

Slim:               ranch worker, gets to know George and Lennie

Candy:                        has lost his right hand, does the meanest jobs on the ranch           

Curley:           son of ranch owner, very aggressive

Curley's wife:            very attractive, hates her husband

Migrant workers - people travelling from ranch to ranch in order to work there

About the author:

John Steinbeck was born in 1902 in California as a son of a mixed German and Irish middle-class family. He graduated from High School, where he wrote successfully for the school magazine. Then he studied at University marine Biology but left without a degree in 1925 and went to New York. Though his parents wanted him to be a lawyer he began to write, which seemed to be a big mistake for the next ten years. His first novel, published in 1929 flopped. It took until 1935 for Steinbeck to achieve his first real publishing success with his novel "Tortilla Flat". "Of Mice and Men" followed, published in 1937 and his probably still best novel "The Grapes of Wrath" came out two years later.

He moved into high society and had relationships with three American presidents, Roosevelt, Johnson and Kennedy.

He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1962 and died in 1968 of a heart disease.

Steinbeck was a lonely and restless man, never content and always searching for something more.


The novella "Of Mice and Men" is settled in the 1930s in California.

Lennie and George are on the way to another ranch. George tells Lennie often about their dream of an own little place with a lot of animals. They work for realising it.

Lennie makes George angry by stroking a dead Mouse which he killed by accident. They arrive at the ranch and meet Curley, who is very violent and aggressive. He doesn't accept Lennie and they nearly start a fight.

Lennie is very attracted by Curley's wife and it seems like she wants to sleep with him and a lot of other men. That's why George becomes worried. So he tells Lennie that he should go to the place where they spent the previous night if there is any trouble.

After that they meet Slim. George tells him that they had to leave their last working place because Lennie was wrongly accused of trying to rape a young girl.

Candy's dog is shot because it is too old to be of any further use and so he gets very depressed. He hears Lennie and George talking about their dream of their own little place and Candy wants to join them and give them a lot of money. From this time on, George begins to believe in this dream.

Suddenly Curley starts a fight with Lennie, who crushes Curly's hand unintentionally.

Later Lennie kills the puppy he has been given, not knowing his own strength. While he is trying to bury it, Curley's wife comes into the barn. She asks him to stroke her hair, but she panics when she feels how strong he is. By accident Lennie breaks her neck.

When her body is found it is obvious that the murderer is Lennie and a hunt is started for him. George looks for Lennie on his own and finds him at the place he told him.


Only Slim understands why George did this and the two leave the others and go off for a drink.

Formal interpretation:

Steinbeck has a very powerful, detailed and descriptive style. "Of Mice and Men" follows a simple chronological structure but it isn't divided into chapters.  He uses a lot of direct speeches and gives us information about what the people think and about their personalities by how they talk. Each character has a different way of speaking. In order to achieve this Steinbeck uses different sentence lengths, slang, repetitions and accents.

The title is taken from the poem "To a Mouse" by the Scottish poet Robert Burns.



George:           George is clever and a good judge of other people's characters. He is peaceful but also fights for his rights. He tells Lennie very often how happy he would be without him, but in fact he loves Lennie very much and feels responsible for him and in some way he is glad not to be alone. And this is special, because nearly every migrant worker suffers from his loneliness.

However, looking after Lennie is also a task for him.

In the end George has to shoot Lennie, because of his morality. The same morality which tells him that he can not leave his friend on his own causes that he kills the only person he loves. George knows, that Lennie wouldn't be able to bear a life in prison. Their dream is dead with Lennie and because of Lennie.

Lennie:           Lennie is a child in a man's body and he has never learned to control his incredible strength. Another important feature of him is innocence. Lennie can do everything and you can't manage to be angry. As a reader you automatically sympathise with him.

Nearly nobody tries to understand him or accepts him.

Slim:                          For Steinbeck Slim is a very important character with a natural authority. He shows that there are honest and good men in every section of society and Steinbeck wants to raise the status of migrant workers. Only Slim understands the relationship between George and Lennie and he is the only one who understands that George has to shoot Lennie and that it is very hard for him.

Candy:                        He is disabled, lonely and he lost control over his life. One statement of this novella is that even such people are worthy of our respect. The relationship between him and his old dog is like the relationship between George and Lennie. When he hears about their dream it gives his life a new sense and him hope.

Curley:           He is cruel, insensitive and selfish. He is the most unpleasant and unattractive character in the book. For Curley everything bad which happens  is someone else's fault.

Curley's wife:            hates her husband and she realises that her sexuality is the only weapon she has as a woman in her situation.


Lennie is described by comparing him to a variety of animals and the relationship between him and George is in fact like a relationship between a master and his dog.

He loves to pet mice, but kills them by accident. This is a clear warning about how dangerous Lennie can be.

In the end Lennie dies painlessly, happy, free and still believing in his dream, shot by a man he trusts in.

Their dream is necessary for surviving the real world. It represents a possibility of freedom and protection from the cruelties of reality.

Steinbeck protests against three social and political things: racial discrimination, the treatment of old age and the destiny of the ranch workers.

Steinbeck didn't write a novel because of the plot, but a novel about the characters. Maybe he wanted to show that there was far too less humanity in our world.

Historical Background:

Lennie and George are examples of migrant workers. They were very poor and a lot of them had the dream of an own place, the so called and well-known "American Dream".

The American Dream hat its roots in the belief of the people who came from almost every country and background. They believed that America would give them opportunities they didn't have in their home countries. But reality didn't always match the dream, but it survived until the late 1920s. At this time there was no more virgin land and America has built its own system on the basis of wealth and race.

After World War I economic and ecological forces brought many agricultural workers to California and a recession led to a drop of the price of crops. The stock market crash of 1929 only made it worse. Many people had no job and the rate of unemployment was nearly 25% in 1933. Again Thousands headed for California which seemed like a promised land.

Overfarming has caused a drying up, and the land turned into a desert - the "dust bowl".

In 1938, the year after "Of Mice and Men" was published, half of America's grain was harvested by machines. So they only needed five people for the work a few years earlier 350 people did.

All this things happened or were happening by the time "Of Mice and Men" was written and Steinbeck knew about these changes.


Personal statement:

To my mind this is a really good book and I enjoyed reading it. The story is very touching and I liked Steinbeck's style of writing very much.

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