The Relationship between George and Lennie in Of Mice and Men

Term Paper 2000 19 Pages

American Studies - Literature


Table of Contents

1. Preface

2. John Steinbeck
2.1. Short Biographical Portrait
2.2. Steinbeck and California Literature

3. The Great Depression

4. Of Mice and Men
4.1. George and Lennie: The Dissimilar Couple
4.2. “Some day - [] we´re gonna have a little house”[1]
4.3. The Killing of Lennie : George - Murderer or Protector ?

5. Conclusion

6. Index

1. Preface

John Steinbeck was doubtless one of the United States’ best writers. His books are still counted among the great American classics of their time and next to The Grapes of Wrath, it was his novel Of Mice and Men that reached international popularity.

The book’s unique story is concerned with George and Lennie, two migrant farm workers and their dream of owning land.

The present paper will give a short introduction into the life and works of John Steinbeck and into the America of the 1930ies in order to give necessary background information on the writer himself and the story.

This paper will deal with the two main character’s relationship and the unique dream they share. What kind of persons are George and Lennie? What makes them so different from all the other farm hands?

The most important matter ought to be discussed in this paper is their dream and the impact it has on their lives. I want to point out how it influences them and if it is rather an utopian dream or a true aim that they want to achieve.

Furthermore, by a close examination of Lennie’s death, I want to discuss what George’s intention of killing Lennie was. Furthermore I will be dealing with the question of guilt in this context.

Finally, I will sum up my results in the conclusion, containing thoughts and facts about one of the best books which has ever been written, and which was a pleasure of reading for me.

2. John Steinbeck

2.1. John Steinbeck: Short Biographical Portrait

“ I asked, ‘ When did you begin to write ?’And John said almost in wonder, ‘ I don’t remember a time I didn’t write.’ ”[2]

One of America’s most famous writers, John Ernst Steinbeck, was born in Salinas, California, on February 27 in 1902. The son of John Ernst Steinbeck Sr., a county treasurer and Olive Hamilton, a former school teacher was raised in the Salinas Valley. It was “ […] the most important fact about Steinbeck’s early life that he was born and brought up in that long fertile agricultural land …”[3].

It is believed that it was this surrounding that influenced his writing and was the place where he found the inspiration for his novels. Most of his fiction is concerned with California and the Great Depression, and most of his novels are set in California, for instance Of Mice and Men, whose setting is the Salinas Valley.

John Steinbeck was a student at Stanford University, which he left in 1925 with the intention of going to New York .He wanted to become a writer. He spend five years reading, travelling and writing. While he joined a group of landless tenant farmers on their trek to California,he found the inspiration for his most successful novel The Grapes of Wrath (1939) , which made him a Pulitzer Prize winner in 1940. Richard Astro considers this trip “…the genesis of what would become his epic account of the dispossessed and the disinherited…”[4]

Temporarily he also worked as a journalist and correspondent for the New York Herald Tribune during World War II and for Newsday during the Vietnam War as well.

His major works are counted among the permanent American Classics, such as Tortilla Flat (1935), In Dubious Battle (1936), Of Mice and Men (1936), The Red Pony (1938, East of Eden (1952) and Travels with Charley in Search of America (1962). Steinbeck’s fame would reach its peak when he became a Nobel Prize winner in 1962.

The unique story-teller “[…] who, better than any other novelist on record, portrayed life in California’s rural valleys and along its central coast […] ”[5] died on December 20, 1968 in New York City. Nevertheless, he left his novels, which were written “[…] not the way books are written”, as he once remarked about the Grapes of Wrath, “ but the way lives are lived.”[6]

2.2. Steinbeck and California Literature

What makes Steinbeck a Californian writer ? Is it the fact that he was born and raised in the west coast state of the United States? Or is it a particular style of writing that makes him so “Californian”?

If one could speak of a particular California Literature at all and of Steinbeck being a typical Californian writer, it is undoubtedly the fact that most of his novels, as I mentioned beforehand, are set in California. They deal with the problems of ordinary labourers where Steinbeck shows “ his sympathy for the underdog ”.[7]

Steinbeck’s detailed descriptions landscape helps the reader to develop an harmonic picture of the California:

A few miles south of Soledad, the Salinas river drops close to the hills- side bank and runs deep and green.[…] On one side of the river the golden foothill slopes curve up to the strong and rocky Gabilan mountains, but on the valley side the water is lined with trees- willows fresh and green with every spring;[…][8]

The described landscape and the ranch itself, which is near Soledad, south-east of Salinas on the Salinas river, would have been very familiar to Steinbeck, since he grew up there and knew it all his life. Hadella also argues that

[…] all of Steinbeck’s stories about California farmworkers include realistic details gleaned from the writer’s experiences as an agricultural laborer and from his journalistic investigations of farm labor conditions.[9]

This, and the fact that his books are mostly concerned with people searching for a better life, makes his works typical “Californian” Literature. Such people as for instance the Joads in The Grapes of Wrath, who had lost everything and find their last and final hope in going to California – the

“Promised Land”, and George and Lennie, travelling from place to place, working as farm hands and dreaming that :

‘Some day- we’re gonna get the jack together and we’re gonna have a little house and a couple of acres an’ a cow and some pigs and… ’ ‘An live off the fatta the lan’ […][10].


[1] John Steinbeck, Of Mice and Men,

published by Mandarin Paperbacks (London 1995), p.15.

[2] Steinbeck, from foreword by Elaine Steinbeck.

[3] Richard Astro , ”John Steinbeck: A Biographical Portrait”, John Steinbeck, a Dictionary

of his fictional characters, ed. by Tetsumaro Hayashi (Metuchen NJ, 1976), p.1 .

[4] Richard Astro, p.10.

[5] Astro, p.21.

[6] The Norton Anthology of American Literature 5th. edition volume 2,”John Steinbeck”

ed. by Nina Baym (N.Y. 1998), p.1740.

[8] Steinbeck, p.1.

[9] Charlotte Cook Hadella, “ Layers of Complexities: Reality, Symbol, and Myth”

Of Mice and Men: A Kinship of Powerlessness, Twayne Publishers ( N.Y. 1995)


[10] Steinbeck, p.15.


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Humboldt-University of Berlin – Institute for Anglistics/American Studies
2,0 (B)
Relationship George Lennie Mice Thema Of Mice and Men




Title: The Relationship between George and Lennie in Of Mice and Men