‘Of Mice and Men‘ is written by John Steinbeck and is a short novella consisting of a hundred and seven pages exploring the ordeals of the ordinary working-class Americans post Great Depression. Interestingly, the book starts and ends in only four days – from Thursday to Sunday precisely, but is packed with stories and adventures that leave the reader with lessons able to stick for a lifetime.
‘Spoiler-Free’ ‘Of Mice and Men‘ Summary
In ‘Of Mice and Men,’ the characters George and Lennie travel miles on foot to seek employment at a ranch after losing their previous job. George, being an intelligent but small man, leads the way and is responsible for taking care of Lennie, a giant but mentally retarded man – whose inability to learn or control his emotional and physical strength always gets them into trouble and subsequently fired from jobs.
The two friends have plans to someday own a ranch and be their own boss, but being short on cash, they must first get a job and save up to make this happen. From time to time, Lennie gets itchy ears for this dream and would constantly perturb George to retell the story over and over.
And so they begin working their new job as laborers for this ranch owner, teaming up with a group of other ranch hands who, like George and Lennie, are embodiments of different characters indicative of what a toll the working class laborers pass through in those times.
Hours into their new environment, Lennie’s proclivity to lunacy comes in the way of their resolve to stay out of trouble and keep their job, just as it always did with their previous jobs in the past. Only this time, the scenario is much worse as Lennie’s action accidentally kills the wife of the ranch owner’s son.
Fleeing to save his life, and with a lynch party of ranch hands hot on his trail, scared Lennie escapes to a clearing serving as a rendezvous point prearranged by him and George for when there’s trouble or emergency. George secretly peels away from the searching crowd to meet Lennie. He shoots Lennie in the back of the head point-blank to put him out of misery before the others could find him.
‘Of Mice and Men’ Summary
Spoiler alert: Important details of the novel are revealed below
‘Of Mice and Men‘ begins in the twilight one faithful Thursday, with two gentlemen of opposite physical characteristics matching on through the brush in a place called Solitude, or Soledad in Spanish, near California.
George, a small, smart, and intelligent young man, leads the way for Lennie, who’s exactly his opposite; tall, big, and awkwardly clumsy. Lennie loves to pet and feel soft things but always ends up killing them because he doesn’t have control over his strength.
They appear to be heading to their new job for the first time and are racing against the encroaching nights after being dropped off by a commercial bus driver leagues away.
George, who always gives instructions to Lennie and would often take responsibility for their big decisions, decides it’s best to camp somewhere by a river called Salinas to rest one more night and continue fresh the next morning.
Lennie agrees to the plan, and while the two thirsty friends drink from a nearby swamp, George discovers that Lennie is hiding a dead mouse deep in his pocket. George collects and throws it away to the other side of the swamp. He scolds Lennie and tells him not to say a word when they get to the ranch to work, adding that if things go south, he must return to their current location and wait for him.
Lennie, pissed at George’s bossiness, threatens to leave George and go live alone in a cave. George begs him to stay and retells him the story about their dream of co-owning a ranch and how he, Lennie, gets the extra perk of rearing rabbits – an idea which Lennie apparently loves very much. With that story, the two friends go to sleep.
The next morning, Friday, which is also the start of chapter two, sees the pair arriving at the ranch to meet Candy, one of the ranch hands. Candy tells them the ranch owner is pissed at them for not making it to the ranch yesterday.
A few moments later, the ranch owner returns to interview them. George does all the talking – including answering questions on Lennie’s behalf, as was the plan. He explains their expertise and why they are late.
Observing that Lennie is not defending himself, the ranch owner suspects there’s a charade, but George lies that he and Lennie are cousins and that he (Lennie)’s like that because he got kicked in the head by a horse while they were little. Reluctantly, the boss believes him and puts them in the grain team headed by Slim.
That day at the bunkhouse, Curley, the ranch owner’s son, decides to goad and challenge Lennie to a fight on hearing that the newcomer is quiet and reserved. We later learn from Candy that Curley is, in fact, a semi-professional boxer who has a reputation for beating up men twice his size.
Later, a young woman who appears to be Curley’s wife enters the room and begins flirting with Lennie and George, but after she exits the building, George is quick to warn Lennie to stay away from her.
As Slim talks with George and Lennie, Carlson, another ranch hand, enters to complain about Candy’s old, shabby and smelly dog. Carlson advises Candy to kill the dog and begs Slim to replace the dog with one of his puppies.
Chapter three opens with Slim and George having a conversation. George pitches the idea of Slim allowing Lennie to have one of his puppies as Lennie likes to touch and pet soft things. Slim is curious how George is so close with Lennie, which he thinks is weird.
George tells Slim the truth that he and Lennie are childhood friends and that he started taking responsibility after Lennie’s Aunt, Clara, died. George further reveals how they got into trouble and were fired from their former job because Lennie touched a woman’s dress in an unusual way that she accused him of attempted rape.
Later, Slim replaces Candy’s old dog with one of his dog’s puppies, and Carlson gets the go-ahead and shoots Candy’s old dog outside.
A few minutes later, George, Lennie, and Candy are alone in the room. George and Lennie talk about their dream of owning a small ranch, which is a central theme in ‘Of Mice and Men.‘ Candy overhears and wants in on the plan, pledging to support with his reserve fund.
Three more colleagues enter the room, including Slim and Curley. Curley is ridiculed for feeling insecure after he tries to apologize for accusing Slim of making advances on his wife. Curley is infuriated and singles out Lennie for joining in on the fun, brutally punching and beating him up. Lennie is too scared to fight back but soon crushes Curley’s hand when George gives him a pep talk.
Curley is rushed to the hospital with Slim telling him to lie to his father, the ranch owner, that he was injured by a machine to not get George and Lennie fired.
It’s Saturday evening, and the men have all gone out to a nearby brothel except for Lennie, Curley’s wife, Crooks – the only black man there who’s also disabled, and Candy. Lennie seeks company, and Crooks reluctantly allows him into his quarter. Lennie starts a conversation and mistakenly tells Crooks of his plans to own a farm with George and Candy – who then enters the quarter.
Crooks tells the two of them that their plan is unrealistic and that George can’t be trusted. Crooks then shows interest in wanting to join after Candy tells him they have enough money to purchase the farm.
Curley’s wife enters and is quickly told to leave, but she refuses. She quizzes them about what really happened to her husband Curley’s hand, but the men didn’t take her seriously. She is sad and complains about how unfairly she’s being treated by all the men. She exits the room in despair when George and the others who visited the brothel start to trickle in.
George finds out and is unhappy that Lennie is spreading their little secret dream of owning a farm. Crooks again admits he is not interested anymore in joining in on the plan, which will never materialize.
It’s Sunday launch time, and sad Lennie is trying to hide, under a haystack, his dead puppy after accidentally killing it by harsh stroking. He’s afraid that if George finds the dead dog, he might deny him the pleasure of tending the rabbits on their dream farm.
Just then, Curley’s wife enters the room, notices, and comforts Lennie for his loss. Lennie doesn’t want to talk to her because he remembers George’s warning that she was trouble, but he reconsiders because she’s being so nice and caring to him.
They begin talking. She tells him that marrying Curley destroyed her dream of becoming a movie star. Lennie can relate to having a dream, so he tells her about his and George’s plan to buy a small farm and that he gets the pleasure to rear rabbits – because he loves to touch and stroke soft things.
Longing to be loved and cared for, Curley’s wife, who is probably the loneliest in ‘Of Mice and Men’ offers Lennie her hair to be touched and stroked. Lennie begins to stroke her hair tenderly and then hard – enough that she screams in anger and pain. Lennie holds tight to her face but accidentally breaks her neck when he tries to shut her up, so her loud scream doesn’t get him into trouble. He leaves her lifeless body and runs away.
Candy finds out first and tells George, who begs him not to tell anyone that he saw him for he might be implicated in the crime. Candy reveals the tragedy to the rest of the men, and a lynch party is formed by Curley.
Carson discovers that his gun is missing, and they’re quick to conclude that Lennie must have taken it along. As they begin the search, George suggests they split into different directions to cover more grounds, but only he knows where to find Lennie.
Lennie gets to the brush where he and George agree to meet up should hints go south. He has visions and in them, he sees his late Aunt, Clara, standing with a huge rabbit.
Just then, George meets him and tells him he is not mad about what he did. At Lennie’s request, George retells their little dream of owning a farm together. Lennie is feeling much better and more relaxed. George asks Lennie to look out across the river, and as he obliges, he pulls out Carlson‘s gun and shoots him in the back of the head.
The alums of the gunshot help the others to trace the scene. As they appear, there is George holding a gun with Lennie lying dead and his blood all over the place. George tells them he fought off the gun from Lennie and had to do it in self-defense.
Slim helps George get up, and as they walk away, he tells him he had to do it, that it was joy his fault. The others watch the two men walk away in utter dumbfoundedness.
What is the book ‘Of Mice and Men’ all about?
‘Of Mice and Men‘ is a book that explores the life experiences of ordinary American people during the Great Depression.
Who are the major characters in ‘Of Mice and Men’?
In ‘Of Mice and Men‘ George Milton and Lennie Small are the two major characters that Steinbeck wrapped the book around. However, other strong characters include Slim, Curley, and Crooks.
Why does Curley always pick on Lennie?
Curley is an amateur boxer who has a reputation for beating up huge opponents. Lennie fits this description, not to mention that he’s also full, reserved, and easily intimidated.