Of Mice and Men recounts the story of two itinerant ranch hands who, despite their apparent differences, are dependent on each other. Lennie Small, by far the better worker of the two, suffers not only from limited intelligence but also from an overwhelming desire to caress soft objects. These traits, combined with his uncontrollable strength, set the stage for disaster.
The fact that a disaster has not already occurred is largely the result of the vigilance of Lennie’s traveling companion, George Milton. Being aware of Lennie’s limitations, George does his best to keep Lennie focused on their mutual dream of owning their own spread, raising rabbits, and being in charge of their own lives. He also ushers Lennie out of town whenever the locals misinterpret his friend’s actions.
When the reader first encounters Lennie and George, they are setting up camp in an idyllic grove near the Gabilan mountains. It is lush and green and inhabited by all varieties of wild creatures. It represents, as the ensuing dialogue makes clear, a safe haven—a place where both humans and beasts can retreat should danger threaten. This setting provides author John Steinbeck with a context against which to portray the ranch to which George and Lennie travel the next day. The ranch, as he describes it, is a world without love and in which friendship is viewed as remarkable.
Steinbeck frames the desolation of ranch life by having George and Lennie comment on how different their lives are and having the other ranch hands comment on how unusual it is for two men to travel together. The hired hands have no personal stake in the ranch’s operation and, for the most part, no stake in one another’s well-being. Although they bunk together and play an occasional game of cards or horseshoes, each is wary of his peers. It is for this reason that Lennie and George’s friendship is questioned by everyone and why their dream of owning their own place is so infectious, especially to men such as Crooks and Candy, both of whom long to escape this loveless, isolated existence. Complementing this theme are the description of Candy and his dog and Crooks’s analysis of what it means to have a friend. Even Curley’s wife is used to reinforce the message. She is a woman who, despite her own dreams of grandeur, finds herself living on a ranch where she is perceived as a threat and an enemy by all the hired hands.
To underscore the situation, Steinbeck adopts restricted third-person narration and employs a tone that can best be described as uninvolved. His technique is an outgrowth of his desire to fuse dramatic and novelistic techniques into a new literary format, which he called the “play-novelette.” Accordingly, he relies on setting and dialogue to convey his message. For this reason, he begins each chapter with a compendium of details that allows readers to envision the scenes much as they might were they watching a staged presentation. Once he has outlined the surroundings, however, he steps away and relies on dialogue to carry the main thread of the story.
Significantly, Steinbeck begins and ends the novel at the campsite. This circular development reinforces the sense of inevitability that informs the entire novel. Just as Lennie is destined to get into trouble and be forced to return to the campsite so, too, will George be forced to abandon the dream of owning his own farm. Instead, he will be reduced to the status of a lonely drifter, seeking earthly pleasures to alleviate the moral isolation and helplessness that Steinbeck suggests is part of the human condition.
In the book Of Mice and Men, it is evident that the friendship between George and Lennie is strong. They have each other and that makes them different from all of other characters. They are not necessarily stuck in the circle of all ranchers; they have a chance to go onto bigger things. The story takes place during the Great Depression. Finding a job and remaining optimistic was hard back then. Lennie and George work through the though times together and remain happy with each other’s company. Through this, Steinbeck reveals the theme that hope and companionship is necessary to survive.
Candy shows that companionship and hope are necessary to survive. His best friend and lifelong companion were his sheep dog. He grew up with him herding sheep when he was young. That dog gave Candy reason to live. He didn’t have much hope because of his age, but because Candy had a friend, he could live happily. Unfortunately, not everybody was so tolerable to the “dragfooted sheep dog, gray of muzzle, and with pale, blind old eyes.” The dog smelled so Carlson shot it, taking away Candy’s companion. This left Candy without a friend and much hope. He was down in the dumps until he heard George and Lennie talk about the farm that they are going to own one day. This brings Candy’s hope up and he has something to live for once again. He spends all his time planning how their farm is going to be and the jobs they are all going to do. He can’t stop thinking about it. Unfortunately, his dream is crushed when Lennie does a bad thing. Candy is once again just a normal rancher without hope or a real friend. He will live the rest of his life unhappy. Candy shows that you can’t survive unless you have hope and a companion.
Crooks also proves that hope and companionship are needed to survive. He even says it himself; “A guy goes nuts if he ain’t got nobody. I tell ya a guy gets too lonely and he gets sick.” This is something that Crooks would know, because he doesn’t have any friends. He is black and living during the Great Depression, and unfortunatley there was intolerance for black people back then. He is also crippled, which doesn’t help. Crooks would take any friend he could get, even someone as crazy as him. That’s why he lets Lennie in his room, then he at least has someone to talk to, even if they don’t make any sense. Just being around other people that treat him equal makes him feel good. When he hears about George, Lennie, and Candy’s plan to buy a farm and live of the fat of the land, he gains hope. He thinks that he can escape the world he is stuck in and becomes optimistic for a short while. Curly’s wife immediately gets rid of any hope he had by reducing him down to nothing. When she yelled at Crooks, he “drew into himself.” After she’s done yelling at him, everyone leaves and he is back to being alone without hope. Crooks shows that hope and companionship are necessary to survive.
The fact that companionship and hope are necessary to survive is well demonstrated by Lennie and George. They have each other, which separates them from the other men. The other ranchers don’t have anyone “that gives a hoot in hell” for them. Slim says, “Ain’t many guys travel around together. I don’t know why. Maybe ever’body in the whole damn world is scared of each other.” There is a lot of truth in this, because there was competition for jobs during the Great Depression. Most men were just trying to do the best they could for themselves, as it was hard to find work and earn money at the time. It was also their instinct to compete and be wary of others that could challenge for their job. George and Lennie teamed up instead of turning on one another. Lennie was big and strong, so he could do hard work. George was smaller, but he was smart, friendly, and crafty, which George lacked. These characteristics paired together enabled them to find a job together and stay out of trouble, for the most part. Their companionship gave them hope. Since had a job and were making money, they had a dream of one day buying a farm of their own. This dream helped to keep them working together; thinking that one day their fantasy might come true. They came very close to accomplishing their goal, but their hopes were destroyed by someone without hope or companionship, Curly’s wife. Because Lennie and George had a friendship and hope, they had a chance.
All of these examples show that you need a friend and hope to live happily. George and Lennie had each other, and just having that company gave them a chance to go onto bigger things. They also always had someone to talk to, which Crooks lacked. Crooks wasn’t happy because he didn’t have and real friends. He was also black, which didn’t give him much hope of going on to greater things. Curly had his dog, which gave him company, and then he took part in George and Lennie’s dream of owning a farm. Unfortunatley for him both of these things that made him happy were taken away and he could not live a good life any longer. Companionship and hope are needed to survive.
This academia was first published 11 Feb 2004 and last revised 13 Feb 2016.Adam Cap is a sometimes raconteur, rare dingus collector, and webmaster probably best known for SixPrizes (serving as “El Capitan”) and PkmnCards (read: fine art purveyor). He scrapbooks yonder every minute or three.