Of Mice and Men Book Summary - Of Mice and Men Book explained in key points
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Of Mice and Men summary

John Steinbeck

The Dangers of the American Dream During the Great Depression

4.4 (20 ratings)
15 mins
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    Of Mice and Men
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    Key idea 1 of 4

    George and Lennie

    When we meet Lennie Small and George Milton, they’re stumbling, exhausted, into a beautiful, tranquil clearing in the California countryside – causing the rabbits and herons to make themselves scarce. There, near the Gabilan mountains and the Salinas river, among the willow and sycamore trees, they find a green pool.

    And the first thing Lennie does is plunge his head straight into the pool and take huge, thirsty gulps of unclean water. Belying his last name, Lennie is an enormous man, a little like a bear.

    George – the opposite, small and wiry – cautions his companion that he’ll make himself sick again.

    It also turns out that Lennie’s been carrying a dead mouse so he can stroke it – not for the first time. He swears he didn’t kill it – he just found it dead – but George scolds him and hurls it into the undergrowth.

    Straight away, it’s clear that Lennie has a serious mental disability. As well as routinely putting his health at risk, he struggles to remember almost anything – even the fact that they’re traveling to a ranch to get work. Lennie is hopelessly reliant on George, whose harsh tone toward him is borne of a deep affection.

    They’re exhausted because they’ve had to walk miles – a bus was meant to take them all the way to the ranch, but it dropped them off in the wrong place. George decides they’ll sleep in the clearing and go to the ranch in the morning.

    They bicker some more – Lennie wants ketchup with his beans, but they don’t have any. To make peace, George tells Lennie his favorite story: the one about the farm the two of them will live on one day, once they’ve saved up the money. They’ll grow their own food and keep animals – and Lennie will feed the rabbits. He loves hearing about the rabbits.

    If they run into trouble again, George says, Lennie should come back to this place and hide. George will find him here.


    Of Mice and Men is quick to establish friendship as a theme – George and Lennie are obviously deeply committed to each other despite their poverty and Lennie’s disability. But the theme is more than friendship – it’s dependency. It’s clear that Lennie would be lost without his quick-witted companion. George, too, seems dependent on Lennie for his company and affection – not to mention the fact that Lennie’s strength makes him an excellent worker.

    Other aspects of dependency already have a darker hue. Think of those imaginary rabbits, and their dependency on lumbering, forgetful Lennie; think of that little mouse, which Lennie may well have killed after all. And Lennie makes himself dependent on that pool of mossy water too – another disturbing reminder of the fragility of life.

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    What is Of Mice and Men about?

    Of Mice and Men (1937) is a poignant tale that traces an unlikely friendship between two impoverished workers in California during the Great Depression: compact, quick-witted George Milton, and huge, childlike Lennie Small.

    Who should read Of Mice and Men?

    • Lovers of classic literature
    • Those entranced by the American dream
    • People curious about one of Steinbeck’s greats

    About the Author

    John Steinbeck was born in California in 1902, not far from where he set Of Mice and Men. He gained firsthand experience of farm labor during his teenage years, which informed his work. Steinbeck wrote at least 27 books – 16 of which were novels, including The Grapes of Wrath and East of Eden. He won the Pulitzer Prize in 1940 and the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1962.

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