John Steinbeck's agricultural upbringing in the California area vibrantly shines through in the settings and story lines of the majority of his works. Steinbeck's novel, Of Mice and Men, takes place in the Salinas Valley of California. The drama is centered around two itinerant farm workers, George Milton and Lennie Small, with a dream of someday owning a place of their own. Lennie Small is a simple-minded, slow moving, shapeless hulk with pale eyes whose enormous physical strength often causes him to get into trouble. George Milton on the other hand is small in stature, clever, dark of face and eyes, and acts as Lennie's guardian and calming force.
Early in the story the prospect of their ever realizing their dream seems remote, but as the plot unfolds (they meet a crippled bunkhouse worker who wants to go in with them on the scheme, and who offers offer to chip in his life savings), the probability of fulfillment rises. If the three pool their salaries at the end of the current month, they can quit and move into their farm. Lennie manages to avoid disaster for exactly three days. He gets involved with the flirtatious wife of Curley, the boss' violent son. Through a series of unfortunate events, he becomes frightened and inadvertently kills the girl. Curley organizes a group to apprehend Lennie. George gets to Lennie first and out of sympathy for his companion, shoots him in the head to spare him the pain of Curley's shotgun or the misery of incarceration.
Lennie's killing of mice and later his killing of the puppy sets up a pattern that the reader expects to be followed. George's story about Lennie and the little girl with the red dress, which he tells twice, adds to this expectancy, as do the shooting of Candy's dog, the crushing of Curley's hand, and the frequent appearances of Curley's wife. All these incidents predict the fate of the dream of a safe place. The plan is doomed virtually from the beginning not only because human fellowship cannot survive, but also because the image of the farm, as conceived by George, Lennie, and Candy, is overly idealized. The probability being that life, even if they obtained the farm, would not be as they envision. The fruits and vegetables in abundance, the livestock and domestic animals, and the community of people involved are unreasonable expectations.
The greater part of the novel's appeal, George and Lennie's relationship, although far from what one could call a reciprocal friendship, intrigues the reader in the same way many comic duos intrigue. It is easy to identify with the "smart guy" who helplessly tries to cope...