John Steinbeck grew up in the first decade of the 20th century on some of the most fertile soil in the world, and as a teenager he spent his summers working on nearby ranches. More than 20 years later, he used these experiences to inform the story that would become this novella.
Of Mice and Men is about two migrant workers, George Milton and Lennie Small, fleeing one farm and looking for work at another. Lennie is large, strong, and mentally disabled and George is acts as his protector and friend. At their previous farm, Lennie caused some trouble by touching a woman’s dress and not letting go when she grew uncomfortable and accused him trying to rape her. The pair have a dream of one day owning some land and having their own farm. Lennie wants to tend the rabbits they’ll have, and this singular thought is one of the few that he can actually hold on to for any length of time.
If you haven’t read this book and don’t know how it plays out, I’ll end my plot summary there.
I first read this when I was in middle school, and it was one of the first books I fell in love with after getting interested in reading. It holds up well – which is probably unsurprising considering this is a classic of American literature. People have loved this book for almost a century, now. I shouldn’t be surprised that I can still enjoy it over a thirty year time span.
The only issue I had with this book was Curley’s wife, who doesn’t even warrant a name. She, along with Curley, are the catalysts for the tragedy that happens – but she’s also a victim in this world. She’s nothing but candy for Curley, a shiny bauble that he can show off. She’s lonely, and uses the only tool at her disposal (her beauty) to express some measure of control over her life by manipulating the men working the farm. In a story with so much compassion for the poor, beleaguered worker, it would be nice to see her humanity given more than a quick sketch.
Overall, though, I loved this book when I read it three decades ago, and I loved it after re-reading it.