Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck is one of those books that I was pretty certain I had read as a youngster, but recently realised that I hadn’t, so I rectified it fast. In fact my copy of the book is in a volume of Steinbeck which contains this one and Cannery Row. I got Cannery Row in the Classics Club spin, so more on that one early next month.
Of Mice and Men is a quick read, just a novella really, it was first published in 1937 and the setting is close to Soledad and the Salinas River, California. It’s the American Depression and is based on Steinbeck’s own experiences of being a bindlestiff in the 1920s, a sort of itinerant farm worker.
George and Lennie are travelling towards their next job on a farm, they’ve had to leave their previous one due to a misunderstanding involving Lennie and a young woman. Lennie is a big man who has the mind of a small and simple child and it gets him into trouble, especially as he doesn’t have any idea of just how strong he is.
George is really Lennie’s carer, trying to stop him from getting into trouble, no easy task. Lennie loves to feel soft things, and he had a piece of velvet which someone had given him to stroke, but sadly he lost it. A teeny mouse was fulfilling his tactile needs, but due to having no idea of the fragility of a mouse and what his manhandling it will do to it, it isn’t long before the mouse is dead. Lennie just can’t understand it.
When they reach the farm where they have some work, they’re looked on suspiciously, it’s unusual for men like them to travel around in pairs, they’re usually loners, and it’s thought that George might be taking advantage of Lennie and taking his pay from him. It’s not true of course, although they both share a dream to own some land and a home of their own. They have it all planned out. They begin to get to know the other workers and Lennie is ecstatic when he is given a pup from a newly born litter on the farm – oh dearie me!
This is a sad tale, you know it’s just not going to have a happy ending and Lennie ends up suffering the same fate as an ancient farm dog.
Of course, Steinbeck took the title Of Mice and Men from the Robert Burns poem – To a Mouse
The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men gang aft agley. The best laid schemes of mice and men go often awry/askew.