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Of Mice and Men - Success and HappinessOf Mice and Men - Success and Happiness


Of Mice and Men (1937)


Written by the American, John Steinbeck (1902-68), pictured right.


Set in...

1920’s and 1930’s during the Great Depression.

The main characters, George and Lennie, are hobos, poor migrant workers.


Fun facts

  • The book’s title comes from a phrase in Robert Burns’s (pictured right below) poem, To a Mouse: “the best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft agley [meaning go often astray]”.  Of Mice and Men - Success and Happiness
  • George and Lennie are like mice because they are exploited and powerless.
  • The Oscar nominated 1939 film starred Burgess Meredith as George who later played Rocky’s boxing trainer in the Rocky films.


Key characters

Lennie (Small), migrant worker

George (Milton), migrant worker and Lennie’s friend

Slim, Lennie and George’s supervisor

Curley, ranch owner’s son

Curley’s wife.

Crooks, the ranch’s black stablehand

Candy, cleaner of the workers’ dormitory


The story

George and Lennie are two migrant workers. George feels a great responsibility towards his mentally retarded friend, Lennie, who is also extremely strong.

One night they sit around a fire in California, talking (as they often do) of their dream of owning a small home with land and animals.Of Mice and Men - Success and Happiness

The next morning they start work at a ranch. They meet:

  • Curley (the aggressive and unpleasant boss’s son).
  • Candy (the cleaner of the workers’ dormitory).
  • Slim (the ranch supervisor)

George tells Lennie to keep away from Curley and his pretty (and lonely) new wife.

Slim's dog has puppies, and he gives one to Lennie. George tells Slim they had to escape from their last job, because Lennie was accused of rape after touching a girl’s dress and refusing to let go.

After Candy reluctantly allows the shooting of his old dog, he tells George and Lennie that he wants to use his savings to help them buy their dream ranch. So they agree to do it together.

Lennie then retaliates after being attacked by Curley and breaks his hand. Slim persuades Curley to say that it was an accident.

On Saturday night Lennie visits Crooks, the black and disabled stablehand, who says their dream of some land is unrealistic.

They are joined by Candy and then Curley’s wife. Everyone else (including her husband) are in town having a good time.Of Mice and Men - Success and Happiness

On Sunday afternoon Lennie is alone in the barn, grieving over his dead puppy he has just accidentally killed. Curley’s wife appears and tries to seduce him, explaining her dream of becoming a movie star and her lonely, unhappy marriage.

She asks to stroke his hand but, not realizing his own strength, he breaks her neck and kills her.

Candy and George discover the body and Curley finds out, vowing to shoot Lennie.

So, after a final heartbreaking conversation about their dreams, George shoots Lennie dead to save him from Curley.


Lessons for success and happiness


1. Family and friends are fantastic

George and Lennie are great friends.

“I got you to look after me, and you got me to look after you”, Lennie says  

But they are lonely because they have no home or family.Of Mice and Men - Success and Happiness

Other lonely people are:

  • Candy (his only comfort is his dog which has to be shot). 
  • Curley’s wife (often separated from her husband).
  • Crooks (who is black and so an inferior social outcast).

 George (Burgess Meredith, left) and Lennie (Lon Chaney Jr) are pictured right in the 1939 film.


2. Hold on to your dreams

George and Lennie’s dream of a home with some land is shattered by the death of Curley’s wife.

Her fantasy movie career shows that dreams must be supported by ability.

 Of Mice and Men - Success and Happiness

3. Money matters

George and Lennie need money for their dream home.

But their low wages mean they never earn enough, despite George saving money by not going to bars and brothels.


4. Kindness is cool

Slim is a kind and understanding boss and gives a puppy to Lennie.

George sacrifices himself and his dream for Lennie (he will hang for killing him).

Candy learns that you may have to be cruel to be kind, when he allows the shooting of his old dog.


5. Fate can be fatal

People’s lives can be ruined by circumstances beyond their control like:

  • poverty.
  • Lennie’s mental disability.
  • racism.

Crooks is warned by Curley’s wife:Of Mice and Men - Success and Happiness

“You keep your place then, Nigger. I could get you strung up on a tree so easy it ain’t even funny”.

Lennie is pictured right with Curley's wife (Betty Field) in the film just before he kills her.



6. Liberty is lovely

George and Lennie are poor but at least they have the freedom to:

  • travel.
  • pursue their dreams (however unrealistic they may be).

With George’s help, Lennie is free to enjoy life without going to an asylum.

 Of Mice and Men - Success and Happiness

7. Accept your responsibilities and be nice

George realizes that he must kill Lennie to save him from Curley’s vengeance.

Slim cares for his men including Lennie whom he describes as a “nice fella”.

Lennie is pictured right with Curley (Bob Steele) in the film.


8. Exploitation is evil

As migrant workers, George and Lennie are exploited by:

  • low wages.
  • no job security.
  • bad treatment from cruel owners like Curley.

They work hard on the land but haven’t enough money to own it.

Crooks is clever (he loves books) but poorly paid.

Of Mice and Men - Success and Happiness 

9. Change people through leadership

Slim is a natural leader whose:

“authority was so great that his word was taken on any subject, be it politics or love”.


10. Listen with understanding

Slim understands people through his:

  • intellect

  • intuition (“understanding beyond thought”).

“His ear heard more than was said to him”. For example, he realizes why George had to shoot Lennie.



Key quotes on relationships

A guy needs somebody - to be near to him, Crooks

I got you to look after me, and you got me to look after you, Lennie (to George)


Key quote on civil rights

A coloured man got to have some rights even if he don’t like them, Crooks


Key quote on ethics

Never you mind. A guy got to sometimes, Slim (on George’s killing of Lennie and the end of their dream)


Two literature websites to recommend 

1. sparknotes.com

2. litcharts.com

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