Free Study Guide: Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck - Free BookNotes

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Major Theme

The major theme of Of Mice and Men, is that a dream, no matter how impossible to obtain, can forge friendship and give meaning to life. George and Lennie dream of owning a little farm of ten acres, with a windmill, a little shack, an orchard, and animals. The dream keeps them going and lightens the load of their work. It also solidifies their friendship.

Minor Themes

One of the minor themes is the tragedy of mental retardation. Lennie never intends to harm anything, neither the puppy nor Curley’s wife. He is simply too slow to realize his own strength. His retardation is the cause of his downfall and death, in spite of George’s trying to help him stay out of trouble.

The pain of loneliness is another theme of the book. All the main characters, including George, Lennie, Candy, Crooks, Curley’s wife, and Slim, express the sadness caused by their feelings of loneliness. The craving for company and the longing for sharing real emotions make these characters very human.

John Steinbeck - BIOGRAPHY

Born on February 27, 1902, in Salinas, California, John Ernest Steinbeck was the third of four children. Though poor, Steinbeck had a normal childhood and attended public school, graduating from Salinas High School in 1919. As a student, he had an inclination towards reading and writing, which was encouraged by his mother, a schoolteacher herself. He was a frequent contributor to the school magazine.

Steinbeck studied at Stanford University from 1920 to1925. Although he intended to become a marine biologist, he never completed a degree. The courses that attracted his attention most were zoology, English, and classical literature. While at Stanford, he wrote frequently and was often published in the college newspaper. After leaving the University, he worked at a variety of jobs. He went to New York, determined to become a writer. Between 1925 and 1927, he attempted to earn a living as a reporter and a free-lance writer, but was unsuccessful. Disappointed, he left New York and returned to the West Coast, where he met his first wife, Carol.

Steinbeck's first novel, Cup of Gold (1929), is based on the life of Sir Henry Morgan, a famous English pirate of the sixteen hundreds. His next work, The Pastures of Heaven (1932), is a collection of stories about the people on a farm community near Salinas. In this work, Steinbeck focuses on the struggle between human beings and nature. These first two books received scant attention. Finally in 1933, Steinbeck achieved success with his short story “The Red Pony.”

Steinbeck’s next novel, Tortilla Flat (1935), dealt with the migrant workers and poor farmers. In Dubious Battle (1936) realistically portrays the labor strife in California during the nineteen thirties. This novel also sets forth Steinbeck's concept of "group humanity" through the character of Doc Burton. This concern reappears in The Grapes of Wrath (1939) and The Sea of Cortez (1941). Of Mice and Men (1937) became a best seller and was adapted for the stage and a movie.

In 1940 Steinbeck went on an expedition to the Gulf of California (also called The Sea of Cortez) with his friend Ed Ricketts, a marine biologist. Steinbeck shared with him a deep interest in biology. The result of this trip was a joint publication, The Sea of Cortez: A Leisurely Journal of Travel and Research. The book is in two parts. The first part narrates the voyage and records various conversations and speculations, and the second part describes the marine organisms collected by the men.

Other works include Cannery Row (1944), The Wayward Bus (1947), The Pearl (1947), Burning Bright (1950), East of Eden (1952), Sweet Thursday (1954), and The Winter of Our Discontent (1961). East of Eden is Steinbeck's longest and most ambitious work. It follows three generations of a Californian family from 1860 to the First World War. The title refers to the family strife, which parallels the conflict between the Biblical figures of Cain and Abel.

Steinbeck received the Pulitzer Prize in 1940 and the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1962. He died on December 20, 1968, and is buried in Salinas, California, the place of his birth and setting for many of his novels.


Started with a tentative title of Something that Happened, the book, Of Mice and Men, took the form of an extended short story. Steinbeck rejected the initial version of the story, for he felt that he had been unable to keep his own voice and viewpoint out of its narration. Steinbeck reworked and expanded the story, adding more characters. He also added more dialogue, taking particular care to reflect the accent and dialect of uneducated farm workers. It is said that a large section of the book was rewritten by Steinbeck again, for his original manuscript was chewed up by his dog.

The working title of the book, Something that Happened, was changed when his best friend Ed Ricketts suggested the present title and introduced him to Robert Burns’ poem ‘To a Mouse’.

The words of the poem are as follows:

The best laid schemes o’mice and men

Gang aft agley. And leave us nought but grief and pain

For promised joy.

The poet talks about man’s enslavement to forces of nature which he cannot control, destroying hopes and dreams. This is what happens with George and Lennie.

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Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck: Free BookNotes Summary

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