Of Mice and Men Summary and Study Guide

John Steinbeck

Of Mice and Men

  • 32-page comprehensive study guide
  • Features 6 chapter summaries and 5 sections of expert analysis
  • Written by a former professor with multiple graduate degrees
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Of Mice and Men Summary and Study Guide

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides for challenging works of literature. This 32-page guide for “Of Mice and Men” by John Steinbeck includes detailed chapter summaries and analysis covering 6 chapters, as well as several more in-depth sections of expert-written literary analysis. Featured content includes commentary on major characters, 25 important quotes, essay topics, and key themes like The Fragility of Dreams and Depression-Era Loneliness and Isolation.

Plot Summary

John Steinbeck’s novella Of Mice and Men was published in 1937, eight years after the 1929 stock market crash that precipitated the financial hardship of America’s Great Depression, which lasted from 1930 to 1936. Firms and banks previously thought reliable went bankrupt, while unemployment, poverty and a general sense of foreboding characterized the mood of America at this time.

Of Mice and Men captures the feelings of an entire nation in six brief chapters that take place over four days on a ranch in California. The trials of George and Lennie, and those of their fellow ranch hands, represent the difficulties many American farmers faced after losing their land and livelihoods to the economic downturn of the Great Depression. As harvests failed year after year thanks to a poorly-timed drought, more landowners migrated in search of work. They sought refuge in California, looking to soothe their disappointment at losing their mortgages and independence with meaningful paid work far from their homes, their families, and their dreams. Only some laborers, like George and Lennie, were lucky enough to find paid work; others wandered endlessly, only to be turned away by farmers possessive of their own efforts and resources that enabled them to survive thus far.

In the beginning of the novella, George Milton and Lennie Small are hastily leaving a farm in Weed to evade the allegations of rape against Lennie. Lennie, simple-minded and sweet, unwantedly held onto a girl’s soft dress, subsequently frightening her. On the lam, George and Lennie make their way to Soledad. George discovers that Lennie is concealing a dead mouse in his pocket and scolds him. The duo reaches the ranch, and George instructs Lennie to keep quiet so that he doesn’t ruin their opportunity for employment. Curley, the boss’s son, is a pugnacious and violent man with a coquettish wife. George further instructs Lennie to stay away from Curley’s wife, as the woman is regarded as trouble. George befriends an old ranch hand with a bad back named Candy. Candy offers his savings to be a part of George and Lennie’s dream farm, a reality that would not be possible without Candy’s funds.

Shortly after Lennie receives a newborn puppy, he accidentally kills the animal just as he had accidentally killed the small mouse. Lennie attempts to hide the dead pup and is discovered by Curley’s wife. The wife, bored and starved for attention, confides in Lennie and allows him to stroke her soft hair. Lennie holds firmly onto her hair, frightening her, and he then covers her mouth to conceal any screams. Again, unaware of his strength, Lennie breaks the woman’s neck and attempts to conceal her body in the hay, just like the puppy’s. When the men of the farm discover her body and realize that Lennie has killed her, George steals another ranch hand’s Luger. He finds Lennie in the brush, just where he had instructed Lennie to go in the event of something “bad” happening. George tells Lennie to look out over the water and calms him with the sweet tales of their dream farm. George then raises the Luger to the back of Lennie’s head and kills him out of mercy.

Told in the third-person omniscient, the events and characters in Of Mice and Men are presented in unflinching detail from an unbiased point of view. The setting of the novella is critical to the reader’s understanding of the events that unfold as both time and place are essential to the plot line. Steinbeck’s familiarity with the landscape and the general feeling of the times reflects his own upbringing in Salinas, California, where visitors can enter his childhood home and peruse the National Steinbeck Center, which houses the John Steinbeck archive and other educational resources.

Steinbeck is famous for other works of fiction like East of Eden, The Grapes of Wrath, and The Red Pony. In New York City, in 1968, six years before his death, John Steinbeck was awarded the 1962 Nobel Prize in Literature “for his realistic and imaginative writings, combining as they do sympathetic humour and keen social perception.”

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