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Of Mice and Men (Plot Summary) by John Steinbeck
‘Of Mice and Men’ Summary:
‘Of Mice And Men’ was written in the mid 1930s, and is set in California. It is the time of the Great Depression, and the Wall Street Market Crash, and the drought that caused the ‘Dust Bowl’.
It was written by John Steinbeck, who was born in 1902 and died in 1968. He has written 26 other books as well as ‘Of Mice And Men’, including ‘The Red Pony’.
The two main characters in the book are George and Lennie. George is the smaller of the two and is not as strong as Lennie, who has some kind of mental disability and does not know his own strength. As a result of this mental illness, he is almost completely dependant on George, who looks after Lennie. We soon find out that Lennie’s aunt Clara asked George to look after Lennie, and vice-versa, shortly before her death.
Below is a summary of the plot, but be warned: there are spoilers!
In the opening scene in the book, George and Lennie appear in a clearing, where they intend to spend the night. They are tired, as the bus driver left them off miles away from their destination of the ranch where they are going to start work the next morning. As they sit down, George discovers that Lennie has a dead mouse in his pocket, with the intention of petting it the next morning as they walk to the ranch. George becomes angry with Lennie, and throws the mouse away, and tells Lennie how much better his life would be if he wasn’t with Lennie, but we get the impression that the two are very close, and that George wouldn’t leave Lennie. George ends the night by re-telling Lennie the story of their dream: to own a small farm, and live off the ‘fatta’ the lan’.
The next morning, the two men go to the ranch to report to their new boss, but George, fearing that Lennie will say something stupid, insists on doing all the talking. He lies, and tells the boss that Lennie was kicked in the head by a horse, which is why he is so slow, but he was strong enough to do the work of two men. Then the two meet Candy, a one-handed ‘swamper’ with an ancient dog, and Curley, the boss’s arrogant son and his wife. George instantly distrusts the wife, and warns Lennie to stay away from her, which is a foreshadowing of conflict between the two.
The other ranch hands soon return from the fields, and George and Lennie meet Slim, a quiet, natural leader, who is described as the ‘prince of the ranch’. Carlson, another ranch hand, suggests that Slim should give one of his newborn puppies to Lennie, and another one to Candy, whose dog is to old to be of any use and needs to be shot. Both men agree, but Candy is reluctant.
The next day, George confides to Slim the truth about him and Lennie, and how they were forced to leave their old town because Lennie stroked the dress of a young girl, and was charged of rape because of it.
Slim goes to do some work, and Curley goes searching for his wife. Candy overhears George and Lennie talking about the piece of land they hope to own one day, and they agree to let him be a part of it, as he would be very useful and has a ‘stake’ in the bank. The three of them agree to tell no one about their plan. Curley and Slim re-enter the bunkhouse and Curley picks a fight with Lennie, who crushes Curley’s hand. Slim warns him that if he tries to hurt either George or Lennie again, the whole ranch will know that he didn’t get his hand caught in a machine, and he will be a laughingstock.
That night, all the men but Lennie and Crooks, the stable buck with a crooked back, go into the local town. The remaining two talk a little, and then Lennie goes into the barn to pet his new puppy. While doing so, he accidently crushes its head with his hand and kills it. Soon after, Curley’s wife finds him and the puppy. She comforts him, and tells him her own troubles: she realized life with Curley isn’t right for her and she wished she followed her dream of becoming a movie star. She then offers Lennie the opportunity of stroking her hair, once she learns he loves soft things. He grabs too tight, and she screams. Lennie tries to silence her, and ends up breaking her neck and killing her.
Lennie flees the ranch to the pool from the start of the book, where George told him to go if he ever gets in trouble. While waiting for George, Lennie hallucinates that his Aunt Clara is berating him for what he did.
As the men discover the dead body and set off to kill Lennie, George steals a gun and goes to find Lennie first. He tells Lennie that he isn’t mad at him, and he never has been. He tells Lennie, once again, the story of their farm. Then, just before the other men approach, George shoots Lennie in the back of the head, and leads the men to believe that Lennie stole the gun, and George wrestled it off him. Slim is the only one to guess the truth, and leads George off to comfort him, much to the surprise of the other men.
When I read ‘Of Mice And Men’, I enjoyed reading about how George looks after Lennie. It proved that although, at the time, every man was for himself, some sense of stability or companionship could exist, and did in the case of Lennie and George. Almost everyone the two encountered were surprised by the close relationship the two had, and that they travelled round together, and this only emphasizes the point, and proves how lonely the other men were. I think that loneliness is one of the main themes of the book, for a few reasons. One of them is the one I mentioned above, about everyone being for himself, and another reason is that when Carlson spots the letter in the magazine that Bill Tenner wrote, all the men practically jump with excitement, and even go into town to celebrate. Just because a former hand at their ranch got mentioned in a magazine, all the men feel like they were the ones who got mentioned, because Bill is associated to the ranch, and therefore to them.
I liked reading ‘Of Mice And Men’ because I felt like it painted quite a good picture of what life would have been like at the time of the migrant farm workers and their living conditions. I also thought it portrayed how people treat those with mental illnesses. As George tells Slim, Lennie would be ‘locked up’ if it came out that he had a mental issue, and that would be the end of him. People just treat Lennie like the big child he is as they don’t know he is sick, but if they did, I think it would be a very different story. Lennie would be treated like an idiot, or a freak, and he probably would indeed be ‘locked up’, as George put it. I think that reflects on the attitudes toward black people at the time, as they would be treated as lesser humans as well.