The story begins with George and Lennie traveling together along the Salinas River in California in search of a job. They both have work cards, which suggests that there are jobs available at a nearby ranch, but they decide to stop and sleep in the woods for the evening. We discover Lennie has a learning disability and George looks after him and takes Charge of most situations. As Lennie doesn’t behave the way most grown men behave.
He not only imitates George frequently, but he also has an unusual attachment to petting animals. George even finds him petting a dead mouse in his pocket, and when George throws it into the bushes, Lennie begins to cry.
George has to explain that it’s not sanitary to carry dead animals around (which highlights the differences between the two men). Lennie retrieves the dead mouse when George sends him to find firewood, but George knows he grabbed it and subsequently disposes of it again.
The duo’s appearances couldn’t be more different since George is small and thin, whilst Lennie is tall and heavy. George plans further ahead and makes intelligent choices, whereas Lennie can’t remember anything and always makes mistakes.
Lennie points out that it’s nice to have someone who will look out for them if necessary. However, despite their visible differences, they both dress in the same styled jeans and jean jackets (labourers clothing during this period), whilst each carrying small bindles to sleep on which hold their possessions inside.
During this chapter we learn that George and Lennie have been friends for years, with George being closer to Lennie’s family, as George mentions Lennie’s Aunt Clara, who used to take care of Lennie before she passed away. George also comments on the fact that Lennie is always getting him in trouble. Since Lennie has a lack of common sense, he frequently gets them fired from their jobs.
For example, George references the last town they worked in, a town called Weed, where Lennie tried to touch a woman’s dress because it was soft, which further adds to Lennie’s innocent and unaware character. The woman evidently became upset and distressed, which caused Lennie to grab the dress in a panic, which forced George and Lennie to run and hide in an irrigation ditch the rest of the day because the men in that town assumed Lennie was trying to abuse the woman.
Throughout the novel the duo discusses plans for the future. With their dream being as little as having a secure job for both of them, by purchasing a farm of their own that they run together. Lennie is most excited to take care of the rabbits that they kept on the farm, which excites Lennie to no end since rabbits are incredibly soft. This situation makes it clear that this book takes place during the Great Depression. Lennie and George seem to be chasing their small version of the American Dream.
Of Mice and Men is centred around two ranch workers, George and Lennie. The story is based in California in the 1930s as they start work on a ranch in a place called ‘Soledad’ (a Spanish word meaning ‘solitude’). The entire story takes place over a period of just four days, starting on a Thursday evening and ending on the Sunday. Throughout this time George and Lennie meet other characters, who emphasise the isolation and difficulty of life for the people working and in these places.
George is a small, intelligent man who looks after his friend Lennie, a large, strong man who has a learning disability. Lennie’s disability and failure to understand his strength prove to be a huge problem. The constant theme throughout the story, is the two men discussing their dream of owning their own ranch and working for themselves, however by the end of the book Lennie has accidentally killed a woman and George’s only option is to shoot him before he is caught, which as a result ends their dream.
This brief novel touches upon many important societal issues, including the plight of the migrant workers during the Great Depression, racism and sexism during that time as well as the lack of care or facilities for the disabled.