Book Review: Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

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“Of Mice and Men” is a book by John Steinbeck about two friends, George Milton and Lennie Small, who are looking for work during the Great Depression in the US. They travel from one place to another in California hoping to find job opportunities as migrant ranch workers.

This book review provides an overview of everything you can learn from it.

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Book Summary

Two ranch hands dream about owning a farm, but their future is shattered when one accidentally kills a woman.

Chapter 1 

As evening falls on a warm California day, two weary men stop to drink from the cool waters of the Salinas River. The first is a short, wiry, alert man named George Milton. Following closely behind him is the mentally retarded Lennie Small, a “huge man, shapeless of face,” who imitates George’s every move with unthinking admiration. 

The wandering laborers are on their way to a nearby ranch to start work as barely pickers. They remain in the clearing by the river, enjoying a rare moment’s rest. Rabbits, lizards, and a heron surround them, giving the place a peaceful atmosphere. 

Yet George soon becomes angry with the childlike Lennie, frustrated by Lennie’s habit of accidentally killing the mice he takes for pets. George complains bitterly about having to take care of him, after the death of Lennie’s strict, protective Aunt Clara, claiming that if he (George) were on his own, life would be free and easy.

Lennie is hurt and offers to “go off in the hills an’ find a cave” to live in. George feels guilty and, to make Lennie feel better, he recites their shared dream of one day owning a small farm and breaking free from their life of wandering from ranch to ranch for small wages. 

They would own a small house, plant a garden, and raise livestock. The dream enchants Lennie, who wants more than anything to raise rabbits one day. Before settling in for the night, George instructs Lennie to come back to the clearing by the river in the event that he should get in trouble at the ranch.

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Chapter 2 

George and Lennie arrive at the ranch late the following morning. They are shown to their bunkhouse by Candy, an old man who lost a hand in an accident and who now does chores around the ranch. George and Lennie then meet the owner’s son, Curley, an obnoxious ex-boxer who takes an instant dislike to Lennie. 

George is disgusted by Curley’s meanness and by his habit of wearing a Vaseline-filled glove in order to keep his hands soft for his wife. Later they meet Curley’s wife, a sexy, flirtatious woman. Without knowing why, George and Lennie have bad feelings about the ranch, but decide to stay on in order to make enough money to buy their farm. 

The atmosphere improves at midday when the other workers return to the bunkhouse. Slim, a mule skinner who leads the work crew, greets Lennie and George warmly and is impressed by their devotion to each other. He gives a puppy to Lennie, who receives the gift with childlike joy. 

As George and Lennie go to lunch, they again run into Curley, who is angrily searching for his wife. George warns Lennie to steer clear of the cocky, aggressive young man.

Chapter 3 

After dinner that night George describes his friendship with Lennie to the wise and patient Slim—how he had gradually come to value Lennie’s companionship, and now protects him from a harsh, confusing world.

George confesses to Slim that he and Lennie fled their last job in the town of Weed after Lennie had frightened a young woman by innocently attempting to caress her bright red dress. The other men return to the bunkhouse for the night.

Carlson, a ranch hand, tries to convince Candy to let him put Candy’s aged, suffering dog out of its misery by shooting it. Candy resists, but gives in after Slim agrees that killing the dog is the merciful thing to do. Carlson gets his pistol and leads the dog outside. The men nervously play cards and exchange small talk until the shot rings out. 

Curley soon bursts into the bunkhouse in search of his wife. Upon learning that Slim has gone to the barn, he rushes there, suspecting that Slim is with her. The other men follow, anticipating a fight. George and Lennie stay behind, however, once again discussing their dream farm. 

Candy, mourning the loss of his dog, attempts to join in their partnership. George resists letting him do so until he discovers Candy is willing to invest $300 in the farm. Suddenly, the dream promises to become a reality.

Slim and the other workers return, followed by Curley, who apologizes for wrongly suspecting Slim. The men taunt Curley and he picks a fight with Lennie, who is still smiling at the thought of raising rabbits. The gentle giant refuses to defend himself even as Curley punches him continually in the face.

Finally, after George tells Lennie to fight back, Lennie grabs Curley’s hand and severely breaks it. George is worried that he and Lennie will be fired, but Slim shrewdly convinces Curley to keep the cause of his injury quiet in order to avoid humiliation.

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Chapter 4 

The next night most of the men visit a whorehouse in the nearby town of Soledad, leaving Lennie and Candy behind. Lennie visits Crooks, a black stable hand who is forced to live apart from the others in a room down at the barn.

At first, Crooks refuses to let Lennie in, but eventually he is won over by Lennie’s “disarming smile.” While talking with Lennie, Crooks begins to resent the fact that even a poor, retarded white man like Lennie is able to have companionship, while Crooks must remain isolated and alone simply because he is black. 

Momentarily overcome by bitterness, he cruelly suggests to Lennie that George might not be returning, that George may abandon him. Lennie is horrified and Crooks stops taunting him for fear of angering the huge man.

Candy joins them and shows Lennie his calculations for making money on their dream farm. Crooks is skeptical of their plans at first, but soon comes to share in their fantasy. Curley’s wife arrives and calls the three men “the weak ones” left behind, yet stays in the doorway; she is lonely and finds a certain companionship with them. 

An argument soon breaks out between Candy and Curley’s wife; Candy resents her flirtatious nature and implies that, as a married woman, she should not be there with the men. When Crooks joins in and tells the woman to leave his room, she responds with a threat to have him lynched. 

He retreats into his shell of dignity and abandons his dream of joining up with Candy and Lennie; he realizes that he can never be part of the white world.

Chapter 5 

The following afternoon, Lennie sits alone in the barn. He has inadvertently killed the puppy with his strong hands, and he fears that now he will not be allowed to raise rabbits. Curley’s wife enters and finds in Lennie someone who will patiently listen to her problems. 

She describes her loneliness, telling Lennie how she has always wanted to be a famous movie star. She lets him stroke her hair, but recoils when he is too rough. Lennie panics and tries to calm her, but she becomes more hysterical. 

Lennie then begins to shake her, finally breaking her neck. Remembering George’s instructions, he flees to the clearing by the river. The men soon discover her body and, led by Curley, decide to hunt Lennie down and “shoot him in the guts.” 

George tries to plead for mercy on behalf of Lennie but is ignored. He is forced to join the posse to avoid suspicion that he is in some way involved in the woman’s death.

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Chapter 6 

Lennie returns to the spot by the river and awaits George. The heron catches and eats a small snake, giving the once peaceful clearing an atmosphere of death and violence. As Lennie considers running away to the mountains, his dead Aunt Clara appears to him in a vision and scolds him for not being a better friend to George. 

Lennie then has a vision of a gigantic rabbit that tells him his chances of raising rabbits are forever ruined because he would “forget ’em and let ’em go hungry.” George joins Lennie in the clearing. 

He asks Lennie to look across the river and picture their farm as he describes it for his friend one last time. As George finishes describing the farm, he takes out Carlson’s pistol. After a moment’s hesitation he puts the gun to Lennie’s head and pulls the trigger. The others arrive soon after, but only the wise Slim knows what has truly happened. He leads George from the spot, telling him, “You hadda, George. I swear you hadda.”


George Milton: A small, thoughtful laborer who is fiercely protective of his friend Lennie, despite sometimes complaining about taking care of him. He dreams of owning a farm and breaking free from a life of poverty. Lennie’s death represents the end of their shared dream.

Lennie Small: A huge, mentally challenged field laborer who loves animals and dreams of raising rabbits. He is devoted to George but struggles with his own strength, which sometimes causes him to unintentionally harm things he loves.

Slim: A skilled mule driver on the ranch who is wise and compassionate. He appreciates the friendship between George and Lennie and reassures George that his decision to kill Lennie was the right one.

Curley: The son of the ranch owner, Curley is a small, aggressive ex-boxer who likes to pick fights with bigger men. He is mean and cruel, but tries to project a tough-guy image.

Curley’s Wife: A young, flirtatious woman who regrets marrying Curley and feels lonely on the ranch. She dreams of being a movie star but is trapped in a loveless marriage. Her attempt to befriend Lennie leads to tragedy.

Crooks: A black stable hand with a crooked back who has been scarred by racism and rejection. He is proud and dignified, but also solitary and guarded.

Candy: An old janitor at the ranch who lost a hand in an accident. He shares George and Lennie’s dream of owning a farm and offers them his life savings to make it a reality.

Carlson: A ranch hand who convinces Candy to let him put his old dog out of its misery. He is involved in the tragic end of Lennie’s life.

Aunt Clara: Lennie’s dead aunt who appears to him in a vision. She represents a symbolic form of his conscience.

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1. Dreams 

One’s vision for a better life is shown to be an essential part of human existence that motivates people to work hard, gives them hope for the future, and provides meaning to their lives. It is a form of the American dream. 

George and Lennie’s dream of one day owning a farm allows them to endure hardship and gives them something to strive for. Both Candy and Crooks come to share this dream (if only for a while) as something to give their lives meaning.

When dreams are abandoned, such as with Curley’s wife’s dream of being a movie star or (after killing Lennie) George’s dream of owning a farm, life becomes ugly and hopeless. After Lennie kills Curley’s wife and ruins his chance of owning a farm, his dreams turn to nightmarish visions of his dead aunt and the gigantic rabbit. 

Dreams are no longer a place where he can escape from his limitations and problems; instead, they serve to mock him and remind him of his failures.

2. Loneliness and Companionship

Loneliness is a condition that the characters battle and overcome: they sense the loneliness of human life and try to escape it. Although George claims that “if I was alone I could live easy,” he actually avoids the pain of being alone through his friendship with Lennie. 

After he kills Lennie, he is again on his own and feels lost. Candy admires Crook’s single room, but Crooks is unhappy there and longs to live in the bunkhouse with the others. Curley’s wife is driven by loneliness to seek the company of those she believes to be below her. Candy’s devotion to his dog brings him pleasure.

3. Love and Death

The novel depicts a tragic world where love often leads to death and where characters end up killing what they love. George has to kill Lennie in order to save him from suffering and indignity at the hands of the posse. 

Candy allows the mercy killing of his dog to put it out of its misery. Lennie’s tremendous strength causes him to kill things that attract him—mice, the puppy, and even Curley’s wife.

4. Big vs. Little

There are two worlds in the novel: one is big, heavenly, and spiritual; the other is little, earthly, and human. The first (big) world is represented by the gigantic Lennie, but also by George and Lennie’s unlimited dreams and by the life outdoors. 

The second (little) world is represented by the small Curley’s “welterweight” meanness and by the demands of work for fixed wages as well as by the limits of the bunkhouse. 

The two worlds are incompatible: Lennie’s size causes him to wreak havoc in the small world, and the dream farm is not possible in a world of fixed wages. George stands between the two worlds: at the novel’s end, he is forced to abandon the big world (he kills both Lennie and their dream) and to enter the little world (he goes off to drink and blow his wages with the labourers).

5. Communication 

Rare and difficult in this novel; an inability to communicate keeps the characters lonely and isolated. Curley and his wife fail to communicate; the ranch boss (Curley’s father) cannot understand Lennie and George’s friendship. 

Crooks maintains that what is most important is “a guy talkin’ to another guy,” while Curley’s wife pours out her dreams and frustrations to Lennie in “a passion of communication.” When real communication does happen, characters feel free from loneliness: Candy’s dog anticipates his master’s every move; George and Lennie share the dream-farm description; Slim quietly understands George and Lennie’s friendship.

6. Freedom 

Steinbeck sees freedom as coming from a commitment to other people and to land. The traveling ranch workers seem to be free, but are actually tied to poor wages and loneliness. Only through owning land, “a little stake,” and a commitment to other people can characters achieve real freedom.

7. Escape

The novel shows the necessity of having a place of escape from life’s hardships. Lennie and George’s dream farm is an imaginary place to which they “escape” when confronted by conflicts or weariness. 

The lush cove by the river is a physical place to which Lennie escapes after killing the woman. After their dream of the farm is destroyed and the place by the river is discovered by the posse, there is nowhere to escape to, and Lennie must die.

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1. Cleaning by river 

This safe, comfortable retreat symbolizes Lennie and George’s dream of the good life. It is the setting of the first and last chapters: in the first chapter, a springlike peace suggests hope for the future; in the last, a heron eats a snake, symbolizing George’s killing of Lennie and their dream.

2. Rabbits and Mice

Symbolize Lennie’s innocence, desire for warmth and safety, and dream of a better life. Lennie’s killing the mice while petting them foreshadows his killing of Curley’s wife. 

At the story’s end, a gigantic rabbit appears to him in a vision and tells him that a better life is no longer possible. This symbolizes the way in which Lennie’s desires have turned against him and result in his death.

3. Solitaire

George constantly plays game of solitaire with cards. Symbolizes loneliness of human life, foreshadows his eventual loss of Lennie (his life will be “solitaire”). Solitude is symbolized by nearby town of Soledad (Spanish for “solitude”), where ranch hands go to drink, find whores; place of loneliness where George goes at story’s end.

4. Hands

The descriptions of the characters’ hands symbolize their different personalities. Lennie’s hands are “paws” (great strength); Curley keeps his hand in a glove filled with Vaseline (vanity); Slim’s hands are “as delicate in their action as those of a temple dancer” (grace, dignity).

5. Bunkhouse 

A crowded, anonymous, jail-like place—the opposite of a dream farm. It symbolizes the homeless, rootless life of wage laborers.

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1. The vivid setting and character descriptions

John Steinbeck has a talent for setting up a visual representation of his story. He describes the landscapes and surroundings in great detail, making the reader feel as though they are right there watching the events unfold. Additionally, each character in the story is well-described upon first entering the story. Steinbeck also ensured that each person was flawed in some way, with their own good traits and bad. This helps to create a world that feels real and lived-in.

2. The relationship between George and Lennie

The dynamic between George and Lennie is heartwarming and heartbreaking all at once. Despite Lennie’s childlike nature and tendency to cause trouble, George cares for him deeply and tries his best to protect him. Lennie, in turn, listens to George and trusts him implicitly. Their bond is a beautiful depiction of the power of friendship.

3. The exploration of the search for happiness

The main idea of the story is the search for happiness. George and Lennie are working to save enough money to buy their own land and work their own fields. Steinbeck does an excellent job of showing the reader the ups and downs of their journey. It’s easy to root for these characters and hope that they achieve their dreams. The ending, although tragic, drives home the point that sometimes, even with the best of intentions, things don’t always work out.


1. Offensive themes and language 

It contains themes and language that may be offensive or triggering to some readers. As a classic novel from the early 1900s, “Of Mice and Men” includes themes and language that may not be acceptable in today’s society. For example, there are derogatory terms used to refer to certain characters, and there are scenes of violence and animal cruelty that may be disturbing to some readers.

2. Predictable plot

The story is predictable and lacks surprises. Although the characters are well-developed and the themes are thought-provoking, the overall plot of the story is fairly predictable. From the beginning, readers can sense that Lennie’s actions will lead to tragedy, and the ending is not a surprise. Some readers may find this lack of surprise to be a downside of the book.

3. Too short

At just over 100 pages, “Of Mice and Men” is a relatively short read. While some readers may appreciate the brevity of the book, others may find that it lacks the depth and complexity of longer works. Additionally, there are no significant subplots in the book, which may make it feel one-dimensional to some readers.


Of Mice and Men is a timeless classic that provides a powerful exploration of the human condition during the Great Depression. Steinbeck’s masterful storytelling, memorable characters, and poignant themes make this novel a must-read for anyone interested in understanding the struggle for the American Dream and the importance of hope, friendship and love. 

About The Author

John Ernst Steinbeck (1902–68) was a renowned American author from Salinas, California. He wrote novels and short stories that portrayed the human struggle against social injustice and loneliness.

After completing his education at Stanford University (1920–25), he worked as a laborer during the Great Depression. He achieved his first significant popular success with Tortilla Flat in 1935, followed by In Dubious Battle in 1936, The Grapes of Wrath in 1939 (which won the Pulitzer Prize), The Pearl in 1947, East of Eden in 1952, and several others.

Steinbeck also collaborated with playwright George S. Kaufman to adapt Of Mice and Men for the stage in 1937. His contributions to literature were recognized when he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1962.

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