Notes & thoughts on Of Mice and Men
Written by John Steinbeck. Born in Salinas, Calif. in 1902. Worked as a
laborer and journalist. Focused on the laboring class, dispossessed,
underdogs, misfits, castaways, and marginal characters of society _ what to
do with them? Concerned with how society treats them.

Title is from Robert Burns' poem "To a Mouse" which has to do with planning
and the powers beyond over which man has no control _
"The best laid schemes o'mice an' men *gang aft a-gley" (*go awry)
and it indicates, or suggests, that plans of Lennie and George will also go
astray due to forces beyond their control.

Some economists of the early nineteen hundreds theorized that the
industrialized age builds a permanent underclass and regardless of hopes and
dreams there is no escape because of powers beyond their control. The people
doomed to manual day and piece work labor will never be able to escape from
their dreary day-to-day existence. Steinbeck focuses on the underdog, the
dispossessed, society's misfits and outcasts. What to do with them?

Dreams are a major theme in the novel, dreams that can never materialize.
Steinbeck suggests that society itself encourages dreams, such as Curley's
wife and her dream of becoming a Hollywood star, which can never come to

Characters in Of Mice and Men
Lennie Small
Imaged as pet/animal, child, white race, victim of nature and society, just
pure dumb luck he ended up mentally ill, not his fault, he does not know and
cannot learn. Lennie will be discussed through this outline.

George Milton
Looks after Lennie. Acts as parent, friend, protector, and master. George
does not really believe the dream he continually relates to Lennie about
their one day getting their own place until Lennie brings Candy and his
money contributions into the plan. At that time George says,
"Jesus Christ! I bet we could swing her." George can't see that the dream
will never materialize. He is doomed to day labor and piece work jobs with
no significant gain. George does value Lennie, even loves Lennie, as a
friend and partner. They are different because they have each other. This
shows that George does not have normal relationships with other men. He
relies on a mentally ill man for a friend. Loneliness is also a major theme.
George is lonely and likes Lennie's company. He sees Lennie as a pet,
a friend, a responsibility, and a helpless person. George is victim of a failed
economic system that does not provide for its castoffs.

Aunt Clara
Lennie's aunt who cared for him but has died. George now looks after Lennie.
But, why? That's the big question. Pose this to the class. Have them look for
supporting details for their answers.

The "swamper" (one who cleans, mops and sweeps up the bunk house) who had his
right hand mauled in a piece of farm equipment (ironically a cultivator which is used
to produce nourishment but it robs him of the very part of his body that he must have in
order to nourish himself) and he is now of almost of no use to the system. His days
are numbered and he'll soon be "on the county." The right hand is a symbol of
the workingman which Candy no longer is. Thus, he is fast becoming worthless and
will soon be dispossessed like his dog. Candy has no chance, or hope, of a future
except if he throws his small amount of money in with the others. Irony is that they
have no hope without him. Lennie acts as the glue to hold this dream together.

Candy's dog
A foreshadowing of what will become of Lennie, Candy, Crooks, and all the
characters sooner or later. The dog used to be one of the best sheep herder
dogs but now is used up, spent, no longer of any economic value. No one but
Candy cares what the dog used to be able to do. Now he just "stinks"
and can barely get around. This is an excellent opportunity to introduce to
the learners the term "foreshadowing."

An American cowboy who now works on a barley farm driving mules due to the
closing, or civilizing, if you will, of the American west. Slim's a victim of
a vanished way of life with few if any skills suitable to obtain himself
meaningful employment. He's now a "jerk-line skinner" which is a driver of a
mule team,