Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck has been reviewed by Focus on the Family’s marriage and parenting magazine.
George and Lennie are itinerant workers in California during the late 1930s. When the bus drops them off miles from their next job, they refresh themselves by a pond and decide to spend the night. Although much smaller in stature, George is the leader of the duo. Lennie, large and hulking, is mentally challenged, behaving as a small child would and not a grown man.
George discovers Lennie is keeping a dead mouse in his pocket so he can pet it. He demands that Lennie throw it away. He then tells Lennie not to say a word when they get to the farm where they will work. Lennie must repeat that to himself several times so he doesn’t forget it. George gets frustrated with Lennie and rants about how his life would be easier if he was on his own. He alludes to the fact that they had to leave their last job because Lennie wanted to touch the material of a girl’s dress. The girl screamed in fear, and soon men from the town wanted to arrest Lennie. George helped Lennie escape. Before they go to sleep, Lennie asks George to tell him the story of how Lennie will tend the rabbits on their own farm at some point in the future.
The following day, George and Lennie report for work. When the boss becomes suspicious that George is using Lennie, taking part of his wages, George lies and says they are cousins. He tells the boss that Lennie was kicked in the head by a horse and that he promised his aunt he’d take care of him. Later, George and Lennie meet Candy, a man with one hand, and Curly, the boss’ son. Candy does odd jobs around the farm.
Curly comes into the bunkhouse looking for his wife, but she is nowhere to be found. George senses that Curly is a man looking for a fight and warns Lennie to keep away from him. After Curly leaves, his wife shows up. She flirts with the men, but George warns Lennie that she, too, is trouble. That evening, several other workers come into the bunkhouse, including Slim, the mule driver and team leader. George and Lennie will work under Slim.
Slim’s dog had a litter of puppies and Carlson, another work hand, suggests Slim give one of the puppies to Candy, as the handyman’s dog is failing in health and smells. Carlson thinks killing the dog would be merciful. Lennie asks George to see if Slim will give him one of the puppies.
The next day, George confides to Slim about Lennie’s need to touch soft things and how the big man was accused of raping a woman, although he never did. Lennie comes into the bunkhouse carrying his puppy, but George insists he take it back because it’s too small to be away from its mother. The other workers return to the bunkhouse, and Carlson again suggests that Candy shoot his dog to put it out of its misery. When Slim agrees, Candy gives in.
Carlson takes the dog outside and shoots it. Slim goes to the barn to tend to the mules and sends Lennie away from the puppies. Curly comes in, looking for his wife, and noticing that Slim isn’t in the bunkhouse, immediately goes out to the barn thinking Slim is actually meeting with his wife.
Candy overhears George and Lennie talking about the farm they want to own some day and begs them to take him on as a partner. Candy has money already saved, so their dream could come true even sooner. George agrees but makes him promise to keep the farm a secret. Curly follows Slim into the bunkhouse, after accusing the man of fooling around with his wife.
When Slim won’t take the bait, Curly turns his attention to Lennie. Lennie takes the man’s physical abuse until George tells him it’s OK to stop him. Lennie grabs Curly’s hand and crushes it. Slim warns Curly not to get Lennie and George fired, or he’ll be the laughingstock of the farm. George comforts Lennie by promising he can still tend the rabbits on their farm.
The next night most of the ranch hands go into town to visit a brothel. Lennie stays behind and talks with Crooks, the black man who works on the farm. At first suspicious of Lennie, Crooks eventually warms up to the big man. When Lennie tells him about the farm he and George will own one day, Crooks doesn’t believe him. Candy arrives and convinces Crooks of their plan. Crooks asks to join them but before they agree, Curly’s wife enters. She flirts with the men. When they won’t reciprocate, she gets angry. She threatens to have Crooks lynched. Candy warns her that he heard the men returning from town and she leaves.
Alone in the barn the following day, Lennie accidently kills his puppy by shaking it after it bit him. He is frantic that George will not let him tend the rabbits on their farm and tries to hide the body. Curly’s wife enters and flirts with Lennie. She tells him how unhappy she is and how she wished she’d followed her dream to become a movie star. Lennie tells her how he likes to pet soft things. She tells him to touch her hair because it’s soft. When he begins to pet her head, she worries that he will mess up her curls. She yells at him to stop, which sends him into a panic. Lennie clutches her hair tighter and the woman screams. Lennie clamps a hand over her mouth. He’s afraid George will come in and be angry. In his terror, Lennie shakes the woman, breaking her neck. He tries to hide her body in the hay then runs off to the pond he and George rested at before they came to the farm. George had told him to return there if anything bad happened.
Candy discovers Curly’s wife and tells George. The two know that Curly will lynch Lennie, torturing him before he kills him. George promises he won’t let anyone hurt his friend. Candy tells the other men about Curly’s wife, without letting them know he’d already told George. George agrees to go with the men to search for Lennie.
Lennie is beside himself with fear about what will happen to him. He imagines his dead aunt and a giant rabbit berating him. George arrives at the pond. He convinces Lennie that he isn’t angry and calms him down by telling the big man about the farm they’ll own together. Before the other men arrive, he shoots Lennie in the back of the head. He tells the others that Lennie had a gun but that he took it from him. Slim can see the truth in his eyes and offers to buy George a drink.
The ranch hands don’t work on Sundays.
Although George often complains about how his life would be easier without his friend, his concern for Lennie is evident. They have become like family to each other. George tries repeatedly to keep Lennie out of trouble, but to no avail.
Profanity is prevalent throughout the dialogue. D–n, h—, b–tard, b–ch and son of a b–ch are used. God’s name is used in vain along with honest to, d–n and almighty. Jesus’ name is also used as an exclamation alone and with, by, by Christ and awmighty. The n-word is used in reference to Crooks. Other objectionable words include poop.
Lennie’s brute strength causes him to accidently kill most anything he touches — mice, puppies and Curly’s wife. The moments of panic of both Lennie and Curly’s wife, before he breaks her neck, are described in detail. Curly hits Lennie in the face and stomach, knocking the wind out of him and bruising his eye. Blood drips from Lennie’s nose. Lennie crushes the bones in Curly’s hand when he finally defends himself. An elderly dog is taken out of the barn and shot. George shoots Lenny in the back of the head rather than let Curly lynch him.
Lennie’s need to touch soft things leads him to touch some women inappropriately, although he has no sexual intentions. Curly’s wife is called a tart and flirts with all the bunk hands. George rants about how if he didn’t have to take care of Lennie, he could spend all his money at a brothel. One of the workers tells George about the local brothel. On their night off, most of the ranch hands go into town to spend their money on prostitutes.
John Steinbeck was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1962.
Alcohol: George often talks about how he could spend his money on whiskey if didn’t have to worry about Lenny. The men talk about spending their money on alcohol in town. Slim offers to buy George a drink to comfort him after George kills Lennie.
Gambling: The ranch hands gamble on a game of horseshoes.
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