“Ain’t many guys travel around together,” he mused. “I don’t know why. Maybe ever’body in the whole damn world is scared of each other.”
Wow - how tragic.
This emotionally stunning book has become a classic for good reason. Steinbeck employs a direct, everyday language, keeping the point at all times, using only scenes which enhance the main moral (or immoral depending how you see it) messages, and while this tale is not fiercely fast-paced, it is always riveting, always important.
Characterization is powerful, yet this is a plot-focused story rather than a character-focused one. The goal is to be realistic about the men and not necessarily to get you to like any of them much. The more sympathetic of the group is the tragic Lennie, who's low IQ and mental incompetence results in him accidentally screwing about everything up. People, typically with low tolerance and quick judgement and blood-thirst, fail to understand the scope of his childlike limitations as he innocently attempts functioning in a depressing, adult world.
George, always the caregiver of Lennie, has average intelligence. Both men work hard to get little in life. They're both stuck within their own mental, class and societal limitations. The book is driven by George's promise to always take care of Lennie, that one day soon they will get their own place, a place with animals and peace. For a time George himself may even believe this, as do many of the men who want to join in their dream. Some are skeptical, some just as joyfully hopeful as Lennie, which is even more depressing.
It seems some hold issues about Curley's wife, that she didn't even have a name, and that she was referred to as the husbands property in a way. She was also shown as being manipulative, sluttish, and dishonest. However, I think Steinbeck did this not to disrespect women but to emphasize the story's larger moral message. They were all stuck, for different reasons, in their roles they couldn't climb out of. On the other side of the coin, the negative aspects of her personality helped Steinbeck also showcase his other point - others messing with Lennie, innocent Lennie, and resulting in tragedy as they interact with him.
It is not just she who is a victim, but all of them. The focus is this, not repression of only one minority.
I consider Of Mice and Men an anti-change book. This is especially interesting since almost all novels embrace change and the wonders, miracles, and plot-forward propelling aspects of it. Here Steinbeck is showing that the American dream was NOT obtainable by everyone, that the speech that all could climb up and have their own home and dreams was not accurate for the lower level working man. Despite hard work, saving what could be saved, and struggle, it could not always be dished out to everyone.
Despite all their attempts, and that they have dreamed their entire lives for the same thing, they could not always get the dream. Some lost hope completely long ago, but other characters had a rekindling of it and tried yet again.
It could at first be argued about George changing with how it ended with Lennie during the last chapter, but with deeper inspection it proved still the same, no change. George kept his promise to always take care of Lennie the best he could, to protect him, despite whatever circumstances life threw his way.
“A guy needs somebody―to be near him. A guy goes nuts if he ain't got nobody. Don't make no difference who the guy is, long's he's with you. I tell ya, I tell ya a guy gets too lonely an' he gets sick.”
“I see hundreds of men come by on the road an’ on the ranches with their bindles on their back an’ that same damn thing in their heads. Hundreds of them. They come, an’ they quit an’ go on; an’ every damn one of ‘em’s got a little piece of land in his head. An’ never a God damn one of ‘em ever gets it. Just like heaven. Ever’body wants a little piece of lan’. I read plenty of books out there. Nobody never gets to heaven, and nobody never gets no land. It’s just in their head.”