The novella Of Mice and Men is one of America’s most enduring pieces of literature. In spite of its mere 107 pages, the story has attracted readers for more than seven decades. Perhaps this is because the allure of this book is in its characters, rather than in its plot. In the book, John Steinbeck explores the relationship between a lumbering, yet loving dimwit, Lennie Small and a brooding dreamer, George Milton. The two are peripatetic, journeying seemingly aimlessly from ranch to ranch across the western United States. While Lennie and George appear to be just two of the thousands of other nomadic farmhands drudging through through every month just to blow their ‘stake’ on cheap booze and hookers and return to the ranch life, the protagonists of Of Mice and Men distinguish themselves by a few novel traits. The first is their relationship, the second their aspirations and the third the burden they bear.
When first introduced, Lennie and George are indistinguishable. The book states “Both were dressed in denim trousers and in denim coats with brass buttons. Both wore black, shapeless hats and both carried tight blanket rolls slung over their shoulders.” As the chapter progresses, however, and they begin to converse, the author makes clear that these two are not the same in this relationship.
Through Steinbeck’s illustration of Lennie’s behavior, we see a blissful, yet wildly unintelligent giant of a man, unable to fend for himself. He clings to George as a child to a parent, imitating George’s mannerisms and opinions. Lennie is burdened with the intelligence and personality of a small child, and a mountain of a body. His love of soft things leads him to incessantly accidentally hurt and kill the animals he is so enamored with. He wants nothing more than George’s companionship, and perhaps a few rabbits to pet. Throughout the book, this remains constant. Lennie is static.
George appears to be an average man of the 1930s. He is often abrasive, a naturally solitary creature. His burden is that of Lennie’s companionship. It is left unclear how Lennie came into George’s stewardship, but it occurred long before the events of the book. George lives his life constantly running, constantly talking Lennie out of the trouble Lennie lands them in. While George may often complain about his station in life, fending for both himself and for Lennie, he is shown as truly caring for Lennie. The two share a relationship that the other gruff and independent farmhands around them have never known.
In these brief 107 pages, Lennie and George’s relationship brings them each immense anguish and sporadic moments of joy. It is the central plot device, and the harrowing ending would be void of emotion without it. This is what sets this book so far above the rest, and makes it accessible to people from every corner of life. This book is not about a series of events. This book is about people, and it is about the relationships that two people might forge with one another when neither one fits quite right into the mold that society has formed for them, or into society in general. Lennie is an inherent outcast, left behind because of his unintelligence, and often misunderstood. When other characters see Lennie’s hulking frame, and those hands that could crush a man’s bones, they see a fighter. They see a bitter, cruel oppressor. Lennie, however, is far from that. Lennie is an easily frightened lover, an stalwart companion and good soul. George is nothing particularly impressive physically, and others in the book treat him as such. George is much more than average though. Others accuse him of “playing” Lennie, of extorting money from him and of taking advantage of him, but the truth is that George has fought, ran and argued Lennie out of countless mishaps, simply because it is the moral thing to do. Because as Lennie puts it, “Not us, George, because I... see, I got you to look after me, but you got me to look after you.”
Of Mice and Men ends in heart wrenching tragedy. In quick succession, a series of events leave a single broken soul where once stood a friendship. These last scenes are among the most emotional that I have ever read. As the story comes to a close, you are left with a disjointed band of unhappy undesirables and misfits on an unknown ranch somewhere near Soledad, CA. These are not important people. John Steinbeck, however, through their passion and grief, joy and hope, shows us that these too are valuable people. They tell a valuable story. Even if society refuses to acknowledge them, they are just as real as the wealthy farm owners and aristocrats among us. This situation can be found in countless moments in history. This story could take place anywhere that people live on the fringes of civilization, from the untouchables in India to the slaves of America to the Jews of the Holocaust.
This theme of not fitting society’s image of you, or into society at large made this book easily relatable for me, as well as for so many other readers. They are what allow me to recommend the book to anyone who feels ready. These themes are also what I chose to portray in the creative piece. I drew Lennie and George as they appear physically, however I used their posture to emulate their true selves. Lennie, with broad shoulders and defined muscles, crouches down, petrified in fear by some unseen attacker. He clutches a pup just a little too close to his chest. He is huge, but in reality, so small. George stands, legs wide and arms outstretched, attempting to shield Lennie. He is not especially strong or cunning, yet he stands to protect his friend from any dangers that may arise.