Steinbeck was born in
1902 in California which is
the state that Of Mice
and Men is set. He grew up
in an agricultural area.
Steinbeck went to
When he left
worked as a
labourer and did
similar tasks that
George and Lennie
have to do as
He also worked as
a journalist but his
main passion was
writing and by
1935 he was a well
In 1937 Steinbeck wrote
Of Mice and Men which
focused on the Californian
labouring class. It is one
of his best-known and
most powerful books.
He died in 1968
having won a
Nobel Prize in
The Roaring 20s
During the 1920s America experienced something
historians refer to as the Boom period. America became a
very wealthy and prosperous place to live and work. There
were plenty of jobs and people had enough money to buy
luxury products like cars, refrigerators and could afford to
take holidays. However, the Boom couldn‘t last forever.
The Great Depression of the 1930s
Many businesses went bankrupt causing an influx of
unemployment. People couldn‘t afford to pay their bills and
became homeless. Because of the sheer number of people
this happened to shanty towns were built in local areas and
people would queue in bread lines all day for food to feed
their families. People took to the road in the hope of
finding work but jobs were few and far between. Farming
jobs were particularly hard to find because new machinery
could now do the job of five hundred men with only ten men
operating the machinery.
In 1929 something catastrophic happened to America: the
country went bankrupt. In October panic occurred on the stock
market and people began to frantically sell their stocks causing
what historians refer to as the Wall Street Crash. Swarms of
people flooded the banks to withdraw all of their savings but for
many it was too late: all of their money was gone.
The title of the book comes from a poem by the 18th century Scottish
poet Robert Burns. It is about a mouse which carefully builds a winter
nest in a wheat field, only for it to be destroyed by a ploughman. It is
written in Scottish dialect.
―The best laid schemes o' mice an' men Gang aft a-gley, An' lea'e us
nought but grief an' pain, For promised joy!‖
(The best laid schemes of mice and men Often go wrong And leave us
nothing but grief and pain, Instead of promised joy!)
Why did Steinbeck use Of Mice and Men as the title of his novella?
The mouse had dreamed of a safe, warm winter and is now faced with
the harsh reality of cold, loneliness and possible death. There is a
parallel here with George and Lennie's joyful fantasy of a farm of
their own, and its destruction at the end of the story.
The cruelty in human nature
Of Mice and Men teaches a tragic lesson about the nature of humans. Nearly all of the
characters, including George, Lennie, Candy, Crooks, and Curley‘s wife admit to feeling
lonely and isolated. Each desires the comfort of a friend but have to settle for
occasional conversation with a stranger.
Curley‘s wife admits to Candy, Crooks, and Lennie that she is unhappily married, and
Crooks tells Lennie that life is no good without a companion. The characters are
rendered helpless by their isolation, and yet, even at their weakest, they seek to
destroy those who are even weaker than they are.
The tragic lesson that Steinbeck teaches is that oppression does not just come from
the hands of the strong but also the weak.
Give an example of the predatory nature of human existence in the novella
Community and friendship
One of the reasons that the tragic end of George and Lennie‘s friendship has
such a profound impact is that one senses that the friends have, by the end
of the novella, lost a dream larger than themselves. The farm on which
George and Lennie plan to live—a place that no one ever reaches—has a
magnetic quality, as Crooks points out.
Given the harsh, lonely conditions under which these men live, it should come
as no surprise that they idealize friendships between men. Ultimately,
however, the world is too harsh and predatory a place to sustain such
Give an example of friendship in the novella other than the friendship between
George and Lennie.
Negative portrayal of
The portrayal of women in Of Mice and Men is limited and unflattering. We learn early on
that Lennie and George are on the run from the previous ranch where they worked, due to
encountering trouble there with a woman.
George is convinced that women are always the cause of trouble. Their enticing
sexuality, he believes, tempts men to behave in ways they would otherwise not.
A visit to the ―flophouse‖ (a cheap hotel, or brothel) is enough of women for George, and
he has no desire for a female companion or wife.
Curley‘s wife arguably flirts with Lennie and this seals her unfortunate fate. Although
Steinbeck does offer a sympathetic view of Curley‘s wife by allowing her to voice her
unhappiness and her own dream for a better life, women have no place in the author‘s
idealized vision of a world structured around the brotherly bonds of men.
Of Mice and Men derogatorily assigns women only two lowly functions: caretakers of
men, and sex objects.
In the bible (Genesis) Eve eats the forbidden apple and offers the fruit to Adam so both
are exiled from the Garden of Eden. Eve is therefore the cause of the fall of mankind. Of
Mice and Men presents women as a temptation leading to man‘s fall from perfection.
Only one woman is present in the novella but other women are mentioned by the characters.
List the women and how they are portrayed.
The Impossible American Dream
Draw a table in your exercise book with two columns. In the first column write down a list of
character names and in the second describe their dream and how it has been shattered.
The American Dream is a set of ideals in which freedom includes the opportunity for
prosperity and success achieved through hard work: "life should be better and richer and
fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement" regardless
of social class or circumstances of birth.
What do we mean by the term the American Dream?
Why is this dream impossible?
• Most of the characters in Of Mice and Men admit, at one point or another, to dreaming of a
• Before the action of the story begins, circumstances have robbed most of the characters of these
The symbol of George and Lennie‘s
The farm that George constantly describes to Lennie—those few acres of land on
which they will grow their own food and tend their own livestock—is one of the most
powerful symbols in the book.
It seduces not only the other characters but also the reader, who, like the
men, wants to believe in the possibility of the free, idyllic life it promises. Candy is
immediately drawn in by the dream, and even the cynical Crooks hopes that Lennie and
George will let him live there too.
A paradise for men who want to be masters of their own lives, the farm represents
the possibility of freedom, self-reliance, and protection from the cruelties of the
Do you think that George and Lennie‘s dream farm and what it symbolises –the American Dream –is
Write a paragraph explaining your view and use quotes from the text to back up your argument.
The dogs on the ranch
Lennie kills his puppy accidentally like he has killed so many mice before.
The puppy is a foreboding symbol; although no other character can match
Lennie‘s physical strength, the huge Lennie will soon meet a fate similar
to that of his small puppy. Like an innocent animal, Lennie is unaware of
the vicious, predatory powers that surround him.
Candy‘s dog represents the fate awaiting anyone who has outlived his or
her purpose. Once a fine sheepdog, useful on the ranch, Candy‘s mutt is
now debilitated by age. Carlson‘s insistence that the dog should be shot
shows a cruel natural law that the strong will dispose of the weak. Candy
fears that he himself is nearing an age when he will no longer be useful at
the ranch, and therefore no longer welcome.
As Slim, who voluntarily drowns four of his dog‘s nine puppies, makes
clear, there is little room or tolerance for the weak, especially when
resources are limited.
There are a number of dogs that feature in Of Mice and Men. List the
dogs that you can think of in your book and write a brief explanation
about who their owner is and the relationship between them.
Examples of foreshadowing
Lennie petting the dead mouse
Lennie being run out of Weed for the
incident involving the girl in the red
Lennie killing his puppy
The death of Candy‘s dog anticipates
the death of Lennie
Candy‘s regret that he didn‘t kill his old
dog himself anticipates George‘s
decision to shoot Lennie.
All of which
What does ‗foreshadowing‘ mean?
Make a list of events in your book from the novella that you think
are examples of foreshadowing.
I have a
The reader feels sympathy for Lennie because of his utter helplessness. He
has no control of what happens to him and he is therefore defenceless.
Lennie cannot avoid the dangers presented by Curley, Curley‘s wife, or the
world at large. Although he has no control of what happens to him this does
not mean that Lennie is not dangerous as the other characters underestimate
his physical strength such as Curley and his wife.
His child-like enthusiasm for the dream of the farm proves contagious as he
convinces George, Candy, Crooks, and the reader that such a paradise might
be possible despite him being the least intelligent.
Lennie is a tragic figure who is doomed. His innocence ensures his inevitable
In your book draw a mood-board which includes words you associate with
Lennie (E.g child-like, innocent, strong, etc.) and quotes from the novella.
Unlike Lennie, George changes as the story progresses. During his conversation
with Slim he admits that he once abused Lennie for his own amusement by telling
him to jump in water when he couldn‘t swim. George learnt that it is wrong to take
advantage of the weak.
By shooting Lennie, George spares his friend the merciless death that would be
delivered by Curley‘s lynch mob, but he also kills his dream of the farm –his
American Dream. George realizes that all of his talk and plans have amounted to
He is exactly the kind of man he tried to convince himself he wasn‘t: just another
migrant worker who will never be able to afford more than a prostitute and some
liquor every month.
Lennie was the only thing that distinguished his life from the other migrant
workers and gave him a special sense of purpose. The grim note on which the story
closes suggests that dreams have no place in a cruel and predatory society.
Why won‘t George continue pursuing his dream after Lennie‘s
death? Why not buy the farm with Candy and Crooks? Write
a paragraph in your book explaining why.
After his dog is shot Candy grasps desperately at George and Lennie‘s
dream of a farm. When his dog is shot Candy realises that he too will
be disposed like his dog when he is too old and incapable of working.
He deems the few acres of land they describe worthy of his hard-
earned life‘s savings, which testifies to his desperate need to believe in
a world kinder than the one in which he lives.
Candy is so desperate for the farm that even after he discovers that
Lennie has killed Curley‘s wife, he pleads for himself and George to go
ahead and buy the farm as planned.
At the end of the novella the reader is left speculating what will
become of the ageing Candy.
What do you suspect will happen to Candy?
In Of Mice and Men women are treated with contempt and Curley‘s wife is treated little more than
Curley‘s possession or his pet.
Steinbeck generally depicts women as troublemakers who bring ruin on men and drive them mad.
Curley‘s wife is an interesting character even though initially all that the reader learns about her is
that the men refer to her as a ‗tart‘ and a ‗tramp‘.
When she confronts Lennie, Candy, and Crooks in the stable, she admits to feeling unhappy with her
life. Her vulnerability at this moment and later—when she admits to Lennie her dream of becoming a
movie star—makes more interesting than the stereotypical vixen in fancy red shoes and the reader
can sympathise with her loveless lonely marriage.
When she confronts the men in Crook‘s room she feels vulnerable so attacks the others verbally. She
preys upon Lennie‘s mental handicap, Candy‘s debilitating age, and the colour of Crooks‘ skin indicating
the predatory nature of society.
In death Curley‘s wife is portrayed as angelic demonstrating how human nature is twisted during this
harsh ‗dog-eat-dog‘ life; only in death is Curley‘s wife returned to an innocent state.
Once she lies lifeless on the hay, Steinbeck writes that all the marks of an unhappy life have
disappeared from her face, leaving her looking ―pretty and simple . . . sweet and young.‖ The story has
been critical of women so it is arguably disturbing that Steinbeck implies that the only way for a
woman to overcome that nature and restore her lost innocence is through death!
What are your personal thoughts on Curley‘s wife? Split into twos, one person must
argue that Curley‘s wife is a victim and the other must argue she is a manipulator.
Like Curley‘s wife, Crooks is a disempowered character who turns his vulnerability into a weapon to
attack those who are even weaker.
Crooks exhibits the unnatural effects that loneliness can have on a person. Although he has his own
room he is isolated from other people and cannot even take solace in reading. The reader feels
sympathy for Crooks because he is powerless to the racial discrimination he must face.
Crooks wants to belong and to enjoy simple pleasures such as the right to enter the bunkhouse or to
play cards with the other men. This is why Crooks asks if there is room for him to come along and hoe in
Like Candy, at the end of the novella, the reader is left to speculate what will become of him when he
has past his use.
Crooks‘ race is the only weapon Curley‘s wife needs to render him completely powerless. When she
suggests that she could have him lynched, he can mount no defence.
Not only will the strong attack the weak but the weak will attack the weaker such as when Crooks
cruelly suggests that George will not return to Lennie.
In a better world, Crooks, Lennie, and even Curley‘s wife might have formed an alliance, wherein the
various attributes for which society punishes them—being black, being mentally disabled, and being
female, respectively—would bring them together. On the ranch, however, they are pitted against one
Write a paragraph in your book explaining why Crooks experiences discrimination on the ranch.
Include quotes from the text.
Though the boss seems fair-minded, treating his men to whiskey at Christmas and
giving Lennie and George the benefit of the doubt, he is an unimportant character.
Instead, his son Curley is the most prominent authority figure.
Curley represents the vicious and aggressive way in which social power tends to
In your book give three examples of Curley‘s heartless or vicious behaviour
and give explanations as to why you think he acts this way.
•At the end of the novella, after George kills Lennie, Curley and Carlson watch Slim
lead George away from the riverbank. Curley and Carlson are perplexed by George‘s
emotional reaction and can‘t understand why Slim is trying to comfort him. Curley
has no emotional reaction to the death of his wife and portrays the corrosive
effects of the isolating and predatory society in 1930s America.
•Curley and also Carlson represent the harsh conditions of the real world, a world in
which the weak will always be vanquished by the strong and in which the
rare, delicate bond between friends is not appropriately mourned because it is not
Curley…and the glove…
Candy tells George and Lennie that Curley wears a glove full of Vaseline on his left hand which he is keeping soft for his
Presumably, Curley is keeping his hand soft for a sexual act with his wife. Later in the same chapter, George
mentions the glove again, and theorizes that Curley is probably eating raw eggs and ordering patent medicines through
mail order to build his sexual stamina. The overall implication is that Curley's wife is accustomed to frequent and varied
intercourse, and that Curley is struggling to meet her demands. As readers we must keep in mind that the men are
gossiping about Curley so this is not reliable information.
When Curley‘s wife tells Lennie that she met a man from Hollywood who promised to make her a star we can deduce
that that man was lying to her to charm her into bed. If this was the case then Curley‘s wife must have slept with him
because she was waiting for his letter. Therefore, Curley‘s wife may not have been a virgin when they wed and had
previously been sexually active; Curley may struggle to satisfy his wife sexually if she is the vixen the men make her out
Curley pays a visit to the whorehouse the night his wife threatens Crooks in his room. Perhaps he is unable to tend to his
wife‘s sexual needs regularly enough and feels emasculated (less of a man) so visits a brothel to seek sexual recognition.
On the other hand, we could argue that Curley is the one in the relationship with the high libido. Perhaps he wears the
glove of Vaseline because his wife is refusing to have sexual intercourse perhaps because his hands are rough. Curley
maybe wearing the glove to coax his wife into bed.
If his wife is holding out then Curley maybe visiting the whorehouse out of sexual frustration.
What is gossip?
Some people believe if somebody gossips to you they gossip about you, what dies that
Do you think Candy is a gossip?
In pairs discuss Candy‘s glove, why does he wear it?
Either way we can surmise that this is an unhealthy relationship which seems evidently loveless but as
readers we must keep in mind that gossip is unreliable and there maybe nothing smutty about Curley‘s
Where Curley is plagued by self-doubts that cause him to explode violently,
Slim possesses a quiet competence that earns him the respect of everyone
on the ranch. Like Curley, Slim stands as an authority figure.
The men on the ranch look to him for advice, and, later, even Curley will
deliver an uncharacteristic apology after wrongly accusing Slim of fooling
around with his wife.
Slim‘s authority comes from his self-possession; he needs neither the
approval nor the failure of others to confirm his stature. Curley‘s strength,
on the other hand, depends upon his ability to dominate and defeat those
weaker than him.
Make a table in your book with two columns. In column one write down all
of the qualities Curley has as an authority figure and in the second column
list the same for Slim. Include quotes from the text to back up your
The clearing in the brush
The clearing into which Lennie and George wander evokes Eden in its serenity and beauty.
Steinbeck wisely opens the novella with this idyllic scene, for it creates a background for the
idealized friendship between the men and introduces the romanticized dream of farm life that
The opening pages establish a sense of purity and perfection that the world, which will prove to be
cruel and predatory, cannot sustain.
Although the clearing in the brush is a solitary place it does not evoke the same idea of loneliness
that is present on the ranch.
On the ranch all the characters are bitterly lonely which is a cruel irony as they are all surrounded
by people. This demonstrates the lack of empathy and connection between people at this time.
Unlike the clearing in the brush, which is natural, there is an unnatural existence on the ranch
where people cannot connect.
When George instructs Lennie to return to this spot if he gets into trouble Steinbeck foreshadows
the circular structure of the novella and the tragic demise of Lennie and George‘s friendship.
Turn to the opening pages of the text. Why do you think Steinbeck chose to start the
novella in the clearing in the brush?
Now turn to the end of the novella, why do you think Steinbeck chose to end the story
here as well? Write a paragraph in your book and include quotations.
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