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Of Mice and Men is a novella written by Nobel Prize-winning author John Steinbeck. Published in 1937, it tells the tragic story of George Milton and Lennie Small, two displaced migrant ranch workers during the Great Depression in Californiamarker.

Based on Steinbeck's own experiences as a bindlestiff in the 1920s (before the arrival of the Okies he would vividly describe in The Grapes of Wrath), the title is taken from Robert Burns's poem, To a Mouse, which read: "The best laid schemes o' mice an' men / Gang aft agley."

Required reading in many high schools, Of Mice and Men has been a frequent target of censors for what some consider offensive and vulgar language; consequently, it appears on the American Library Association's list of the Most Challenged Books of 21st Century.

Plot summary

Two migrant field workers in Californiamarker during the Great Depression—George Milton, an intelligent and cynical man, and Lennie Small, an ironically-named man of large stature and immense strength but limited mental abilities—come to a ranch near Soledadmarker southeast of Salinas, Californiamarker to "work up a stake." They hope to one day attain their shared dream of settling down on their own piece of land. Lennie's part of the dream, which he never tires of hearing George describe, is merely to tend to (and touch) soft rabbits on the farm. George protects Lennie at the beginning by telling him that if Lennie gets into trouble George won't let him "tend them rabbits." They are fleeing from their previous employment in Weedmarker where they were run out of town after Lennie's love of stroking soft things resulted in an accusation of attempted rape when he touched a young woman's dress.

At the ranch, the dream appears to move closer to reality. Candy, the aged, one-handed ranch-hand, even offers to pitch in with Lennie and George so they can buy the farm by the end of the month. The dream crashes when Lennie accidentally kills the young and attractive wife of Curley, the ranch owner's son, while trying to stroke her hair. A lynch mob led by Curley gathers. George, realizing he is doomed to a life of loneliness and despair like the rest of the migrant workers and wanting to spare Lennie a painful death at the hands of the vengeful and violent Curley, shoots Lennie in the back of the head before the mob can find him after they had recited their dreams of owning their own land.


  • George Milton: A quick-witted man who is friends with Lennie. He looks after Lennie and dreams of a better life.
  • Lennie Small: A mentally disabled, but strong man who travels with George. He dreams of "living off the fatta' the lan'" and being able to tend to rabbits.
  • Candy: A ranch worker (described as a "swamper") who lost a hand in an accident and is near the end of his useful life on the ranch. He wishes to join Lennie and George in their "dream" of a homestead.
  • Candy's dog: is described as "old" and "crippled", and is killed by Carlson. The death of Candy's dog foreshadows Lennie's fate.
  • Curley: The boss' son, a young, pugnacious character, once a semi-professional boxer. He is described by others, with some irony, as "handy". He is very jealous and protective of his wife and immediately develops a dislike toward Lennie.
  • Curley's wife: A young, pretty woman, who is mistrusted by her husband, Curley. The other characters refer to her only as "Curley's wife," which makes her the only significant character in the novel without a name. This lack of personal definition underscores this character's purpose in the story: Steinbeck explained that she is "not a person, she's a symbol. She has no function, except to be a foil – and a danger to Lennie."
  • Slim: A "jerkline skinner," the main driver of a mule team. Slim is greatly respected by many of the characters and is the only character that Curley treats with respect.
  • Crooks: The only black ranch-hand. Like Candy, he is crippled. His nickname refers to a crooked back resulting from being kicked by a horse. He sleeps segregated from the other workers and is embittered from discrimination. He is frequently seen rubbing liniment into his spine.
  • Carlson: A "thick bodied" ranch-hand, he kills Candy's dog with little sympathy.
  • Whit: A ranch-hand.
  • The Boss: Curley's father, the superintendent of the ranch. The ranch is owned by "a big land company" according to Candy.
  • Aunt Clara: Lennie's Aunt, only mentioned in references to the past.


Steinbeck emphasizes dreams throughout the book. George aspires for independence, to be his own boss, to have a homestead, and most importantly to be "somebody". Lennie aspires to be with George on his independent homestead, and to quench his fixation on soft objects. Candy aspires to reassert his responsibility lost with the death of his dog, and for security for his old age — on George's homestead. Crooks aspires to a small homestead where he can express self-respect, acceptance, and security. Curley's wife dreams to be an actress, to satisfy her desire for fame lost when she married Curley.

Loneliness is a significant factor in several characters' lives. Candy is lonely after his dog is gone. Curley's wife is lonely because her husband is not the friend she hoped for —- she deals with her loneliness by flirting with the men on the ranch, which causes Curley to increase his abusiveness and jealousy. The companionship of George and Lennie is the result of loneliness. Crooks states the theme candidly as "A guy goes nuts if he ain't got nobody. Don't make no difference who the guy is, long's he's with you." The author further reinforces this theme through subtle methods by situating the story near the town of Soledadmarker, which means "solitude" in Spanish.

Despite the need for companionship, Steinbeck emphasizes how the nature of loneliness is sustained though the barriers established from acting inhuman to one another. The loneliness of Curley's wife is upheld by Curley's jealousy, which causes all the ranch hands to avoid her. Crooks's barrier results from being barred from the bunkhouse by restraining him to the stable; his bitterness is partially broken, however, through Lennie's ignorance.

Steinbeck's characters are often powerless, due to intellectual, economic, and social circumstances. Lennie possesses the greatest physical strength of any character, which should therefore establish a sense of respect as he is employed as a ranch hand. However, his intellectual handicap undercuts this and results in his powerlessness. Economic powerlessness is established as many of the ranch hands are victims of society during the Great Depression. As George, Lennie, Candy, and Crooks wish to purchase a homestead, but they are unable to generate enough money.

Fate is felt most heavily as the characters' aspirations are destroyed as George is unable to protect Lennie. Steinbeck presents this as "something that happened" or as his friend coined for him "non-teleological thinking" or "is thinking", which postulates a non-judgmental point of view.


Of Mice and Men was Steinbeck's first attempt at writing in the form of novel-play termed a "play-novelette" by one critic. Structured in three acts of two chapters each, it is intended to be both a novella and a script for a play. He wanted to write a novel that could be played from its lines, or a play that could be read like a novel.

Steinbeck originally titled it Something That Happened, however, he changed the title after reading Robert Burns's poem, To a Mouse. Burns's poem tells of the regret the narrator feels for having destroyed the home of a mouse while plowing his field; it suggests that no plan is fool-proof and no one can be completely prepared for the future.

Steinbeck wrote this book, along with The Grapes of Wrath, in what is now Monte Sereno, Californiamarker. An early draft of the novel was eaten by Steinbeck's dog.


Attaining the greatest positive response of any of his works up to that time, Steinbeck's novella was chosen as a Book of the Month Club selection before it was published. Praise for the work came from many notable critics, including Maxine Garrard (Enquirer-Sun), Christopher Morley, and Harry Thornton Moore (New Republic). New York Times critic Ralph Thompson described the novel as a "grand little book, for all its ultimate melodrama."

The novella has been banned from various Americanmarker public and school libraries or curricula for allegedly "promoting euthanasia", being "anti-business", containing profanity, racial slurs, and generally containing "vulgar" and "offensive language". Many of the bans and restrictions have been lifted and it remains required reading in many other American, Australian, British, New Zealand and Canadian high schools. As a result of being a frequent target of censors, Of Mice and Men appears on the American Library Association's list of the Most Challenged Books of 21st Century (number 4).



Of Mice and Men was adapted to film several times, the first in 1939, only two years after the publication of the novel. This adaptation of Of Mice and Men stars Lon Chaney Jr. as Lennie, Burgess Meredith as George, and was directed by Lewis Milestone. It was nominated for four Oscars. In 1981 it was made into a TV movie. This version stars Randy Quaid as Lennie, Robert Blake as George, Ted Neeley as Curley, and was directed by Reza Badiyi.

The most recent film version of Of Mice and Men (1992) was directed by Gary Sinise (who also played the part of George), who was nominated for the Palme d'Or at Cannesmarker. The role of George's opposite, Lennie, was played by John Malkovich. For this adaptation, both men reprised their roles from a 1980 Steppenwolf Theatre Companymarker production.


Stage adaptations have also been produced. The first production was produced by Sam H. Harris and directed by George S. Kaufman and opened on November 23, 1937, in the Music Box Theatre on Broadwaymarker. Running for 207 performances, it starred Wallace Ford as George and Broderick Crawford as Lennie. The role of Crooks was performed by Leigh Whipper, the first African-American member of the Actors' Equity Association. Whipper repeated his role in the 1939 film version. It was chosen as Best Play in 1938 by the New York Drama Critics' Circle. In 1939 the production was moved to Los Angeles, still with Wallace Ford in the role of George, but with Lon Chaney, Jr., taking on the role of Lennie. Chaney's performance in the role resulted in his casting in the movie.

The play was revived in a 1974 Broadway production in the Brooks Atkinson Theatremarker starring Kevin Conway as George and James Earl Jones as Lennie. Noted stage actress Pamela Blair played Curley's Wife in this production.

In 1970 Carlisle Floyd wrote an opera based on this novel. One departure between Steinbeck's book and Floyd's opera is that the opera features The Ballad Singer, a character not found in the book.

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