Of Mice and Men Summary

John Steinbeck

Of Mice and Men

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Of Mice and Men Summary

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John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men is about an unlikely pair of friends struggling to realize their dreams in the midst of the Great Depression. In northern California in the 1930s, George Milton and Lennie Small find work at a ranch so they can earn enough money to eventually purchase a farm of their own. Although very close, the two friends could not be more different from one another; George is small in size and clever, while Lennie is a mentally disabled giant with the mind of a young child. The two have had trouble holding a steady job in the past due to Lennie’s childlike tendency to pet soft, furry things, including small animals and women’s dresses.

At the beginning of the novel, George and Lennie are traveling to Soledad, California, to work at a barley ranch. The pair had to flee their last job because Lennie kept petting a girl’s soft red dress. George scolds Lennie for stopping to take a drink from a dirty puddle, and the two argue over a dead mouse that Lennie keeps in his pocket. Lennie, who doesn’t know his own strength, has accidentally killed many mice, rabbits, and puppies by petting them too long and hard.

When the men arrive at the ranch, they settle into the bunkhouse where they will live. There, they meet an old, one-handed ranch worker named Candy who owns a smelly dog. They also meet the boss’s son, a truculent man named Curley who used to be a lightweight boxer and who frequently picks fights with larger men to compensate for his size. He has a promiscuous wife, whom he jealously protects from the attention of other men. George and Lennie also meet Crooks, an African-American stable hand who has his own private room because he is not allowed to live with the white men, and Slim, a fair-minded man whose judgment the others trust.

The friends learn that Slim’s dog just gave birth to a litter of puppies, and Slim offers to give Lennie one of the puppies. George tells Slim that he became acquainted with Lennie through Lennie’s now-deceased Aunt Clara and that he promised Clara he would take care of Lennie after she died. Carlson, another ranch worker, complains about Candy’s stinky dog and suggests that Slim give Candy a new puppy to raise in exchange for Candy allowing Carlson to shoot his old dog. He argues that he would be putting the dog out of its misery. Candy is reluctant, but agrees to let Carlson kill his dog.

Slim goes out to the barn with Crooks to put tar on a mule’s foot while the other men play cards and discuss Curley’s “jailbait” wife, whom they predict will get someone into big trouble one day. Curley shows up and becomes jealous after hearing that Slim went out to the barn, jumping to the conclusion that Slim was fooling around with his wife there. He goes to the barn to find Slim. After Curley leaves, George tells Candy about his and Lennie’s dream of buying their own farm and raising rabbits on it. Candy expresses a desire to live on the farm with them and offers to help with the down payment. When Curley and Slim return to the bunkhouse, they are fighting over Curley’s suspicions of Slim cheating with his wife. An angry Curley picks a fight with Lennie and punches him several times before Lennie crushes his hand at George’s urging. Slim takes Curley to the doctor and tells him to say that he got his hand caught in a machine, threatening to tell everyone what happened if Curley tries to get George and Lennie fired. Curley agrees not seek revenge against Lennie.

The next night, most of the ranch hands go out to a whorehouse while Lennie hangs out in Crooks’s room with Crooks and Candy. Lennie and Candy talk about buying their farm together, which Crooks also takes an interest in. The men are interrupted by Curley’s wife, who comes to Crooks’s quarters to try to seduce them while her husband is away. She teases them about being the “weak ones” who are left behind on the ranch instead of going to town with the other men. Crooks tells her he will report her behavior to the boss if she doesn’t leave, but she threatens to have him lynched if he says anything. After she leaves, Crooks tells the other men he has changed his mind about wanting to live with them on their farm.

Lennie accidentally pets his puppy too hard and kills it. While he is in the barn mourning the dead puppy, Curley’s wife comes to comfort him. After Lennie tells her that he likes to pet things, she offers to let him pet her hair but warns him not to mess it up. Lennie starts stroking her hair and becomes excited, holding on to it tightly. When the frightened woman tries to pull away, he panics and shakes her hard, breaking her neck and killing her. Lennie then hides her body in the hay and runs away.

After Candy and George discover Curley’s dead wife in the barn, they realize that Lennie must have killed her by accident, and that Curley will surely have Lennie lynched when he finds out. Sure enough, after Candy tells the other ranchers what happened, Curley gathers a lynch mob to go after Lennie. Meanwhile, George finds Lennie on the bank of a river. Lennie is worried that George is angry at him and offers to go away to live by himself in a cave. However, George comforts him and tells him to look out over the river and think about the farm that he and George will buy together. Lennie does, and George shoots him in the back of the head. When the other men arrive on the scene, George tells them that he accidentally shot Lennie while trying to wrest the gun away from him. Only Slim seems to realize the truth.

Of Mice and Men was published in 1937 and was one of Nobel Prize winner John Steinbeck’s most famous and critically lauded works. The novel highlights many important themes, including innocence, prejudice, friendship, and the way society treats the weak and defenseless. The novel also paints a bleak picture of life during the Great Depression and how the American Dream was a cruel illusion for many people during this time.