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Of Mice and Men

Of Mice and Men Summary


Here you will find a Of Mice and Men summary (John Steinbeck's book).
We begin with a summary of the entire book, and then you can read each individual chapter's summary by visiting the links on the "Chapters" section.

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Last Updated: Monday 1 Jan, 2024

Of Mice and Men Summary Overview

George and Lennie, contrasting in physique and intellect, are migrant laborers en route to a farm in California for employment. Lennie, a large man with the mind of a child, is devoted to George, who acts as his protector and guide. Troubled by Lennie's tendency to pet soft things too roughly, often causing their accidental death, George takes away a dead mouse he was carrying. Despite sometimes expressing that his life would be smoother without Lennie, their bond of friendship is palpable. They nurture a shared dream of owning a piece of land and raising rabbits, a concept that brings immense joy to Lennie. Upon reaching the ranch, they encounter various individuals including Candy, an aged handyman with a decrepit dog, and Curley, the boss's antagonistic son with a flirtatious wife. Fearful of their reactions towards Lennie, George concocts a story of them being cousins and takes the lead in conversations. When Curley's wife attempts to flirt with Lennie, George warns him to maintain distance. The other workers, especially Slim, the respected mule driver, find the deep friendship between George and Lennie intriguing. Slim's newborn puppies spark an idea to replace Candy's old dog, which is seen as useless. The reality of their bond is revealed when George confides in Slim that they aren't cousins but childhood friends. He narrates their past troubles due to Lennie's innocent yet destructive actions. In the meantime, Candy overhears their dream of buying land and offers to contribute his savings to be a part of it. This pact remains a secret among the trio. When Curley, driven by suspicion and anger, fights with Lennie, his hand is crushed, making him a laughingstock. One evening, Lennie inadvertently kills his puppy and then, Curley's wife, leading him to flee to a pre-designated meeting spot by the river. George meets Lennie there and amidst recounting their shared dream, shoots him in the back of the head as a lynch mob approaches. Their secret dies with Lennie, as George lets the others believe that Lennie had the gun first. Only Slim understands the true nature of George's act - a mercy killing, leaving the others puzzled as they leave.

section 1

The narrative starts in countryside California, an attractive region by a river, frequented by swimmers and street drifters. Two men, George and Lennie, emerge on the scene. George is small and sharp, while Lennie is big and clumsy. Both are clad in denim, typical of farm laborers. As they approach a clearing, Lennie halts to drink from the river. George cautions him against overdrinking to avoid sickness. Throughout their dialogue, it's apparent that Lennie has a mental handicap and George protects him. They argue about the bus driver who left them far from the ranch where they are to work. George scolds Lennie for forgetting their destination and for carrying a dead mouse. Lennie claims innocence in the mouse's death, but George flings it away in anger. He instructs Lennie to behave at the ranch to avoid trouble like they had in Weed, their previous workplace. They decide to spend the night in the clearing. While making a meal, Lennie retrieves the mouse, but George confiscates it again. In the past, Lennie’s Aunt Clara would give him mice to pet, but his affection often led to accidental harm due to his strength. Lennie’s request for ketchup triggers George to rant about Lennie’s ungratefulness and how he would be better off alone, citing the Weed incident where Lennie was misunderstood to be assaulting a girl. After venting, George feels remorse and pacifies Lennie by narrating their dream of owning a farm. According to George, ranch workers lead lonely lives, but they have each other. He promises Lennie that they'll soon buy a farm, grow crops, keep livestock, and Lennie can take care of rabbits. The tale cheers them up. George advises Lennie to come back to this spot and hide if any trouble arises at the ranch.

section 2

George and Lennie arrive at the ranch's sparsely furnished bunkhouse. Candy, an older one-handed handyman, welcomes them. George is perturbed by lice powder in his bunk, but Candy reassures him. George inquires about their boss, who Candy describes as usually friendly, despite being upset with their late arrival. He also mentions how the boss gave them whiskey for Christmas, which impresses George. Their tardy arrival raises suspicions when they meet the boss. George blames their delay on a misleading bus driver. The boss interrogates them about their past jobs and capabilities. George answers for Lennie to hide his slow wit. However, when Lennie talks, George becomes anxious. The boss becomes more suspicious, questioning George about why he's taking care of Lennie and insinuating he might be exploiting him. George justifies their relationship by saying Lennie is his cousin who was kicked in the head by a horse, thus needing his assistance. Despite lingering suspicions, they are given jobs under a man named Slim. After the boss leaves, George reprimands Lennie for speaking. Candy overhears George expressing relief that they aren't really related. Despite George's harsh warning to mind his own business, Candy promises not to pry. Candy's old, semi-blind dog is introduced. The boss's son, Curley, a short and aggressive ex-boxer, arrives, immediately taunts Lennie, and leaves. Candy explains Curley's hostility towards larger men and shares Curley's recent marriage to a flirtatious woman. Candy departs to prepare wash basins, leaving George to warn Lennie about Curley's potential for conflict. They review their emergency plan. Curley's attractive, flirtatious wife appears, claiming to be looking for her husband. Slim, the respected mule driver, directs her to Curley, and she leaves. Lennie admires her beauty, but George strictly tells him to avoid her. Lennie suggests leaving, but George reminds him of their dream to own land. Slim enters the bunkhouse, demonstrating his importance and respect on the ranch. He appreciates the camaraderie between Lennie and George. Carlson, another worker, joins them. He suggests that Candy euthanize his old dog and adopt one of Slim's new puppies. Dinner is called, leaving Lennie excited about the prospect of a pup. Curley returns, searching for his wife, and leaves in anger. George expresses his dislike for Curley and anticipates a potential clash with him.

section 3

Slim and George finish their work and return to the bunkhouse, where Slim gifts Lennie a puppy. George expresses gratitude, admitting Lennie has limited intellect but is not dangerous. He relays their shared past to Slim, including how he used to manipulate Lennie for amusement. George reveals Lennie's attraction to soft things led to an accusation of assault in their previous town, forcing them to flee. Lennie enters the bunkhouse cradling his new puppy, and George scolds him for separating it from its mother. Candy and Carlson join them, and Carlson expresses his disgust for Candy's aged dog, suggesting they put it down. Despite resistance from Candy, the dog's long-time owner, Slim agrees with Carlson's sentiment. Whit, another farmhand, distracts the group briefly with a letter from a former colleague. Eventually, Candy acquiesces, and Carlson takes the dog outside to kill it. The sound of the gunshot breaks the uncomfortable silence, leaving Candy emotionally distraught. Crooks, the stable-hand, informs Slim of a mule's ailment. Once Slim departs, the men gossip about Curley's flirtatious wife, predicting she will stir problems. George turns down an invitation to a local brothel, citing his financial commitments. Curley storms in, questioning his wife's whereabouts and leaves in anger looking for Slim. George probes Lennie about a potential encounter between Slim and Curley's wife, warning him about the complications women can cause. Lennie's curiosity leads George to picture their dream farm, catching Candy's interest. Candy proposes to contribute his savings in exchange for living with them. The men concur to keep their shared dream a secret. Candy regrets not putting down his dog personally. Returning to the bunkhouse, Curley apologies to Slim for his earlier suspicions. He then targets Lennie in a fit of anger. Lennie remains passive until George instructs him to retaliate. Lennie breaks Curley's hand effortlessly, leading Slim to negotiate their continued employment on the ranch. Despite the unsettling event, Lennie is reassured he will still be able to care for the rabbits on their dream farm.

section 4

On a Saturday night, Crooks, the Black stable-hand nursing a crooked back, finds himself in the company of Lennie, who had been tending to his puppy in the barn. Initially, Crooks attempts to keep his distance, citing racial segregation, but Lennie's innocence and desire for companionship eventually win him over. Lennie excitedly talks about his dream of owning a farm with George, but Crooks dismisses it as a mere fantasy. He opens up about his lonely childhood as the only Black family around and his father's cautions against mingling with white people. Crooks also expresses his resentment towards the unfair social norms that isolate him in the ranch. Crooks then unnerves Lennie by suggesting that George might not come back, leading to a confrontation. Crooks quickly pacifies Lennie by promising George's return and draws him back to the dream of the farm. He cynically points out how all ranch-hands harbor the same unfulfilled dream of owning a piece of land, comparing it to an unreachable heaven. Candy soon joins them, marking his first visit to Crooks's room despite years of working together. The conversation steers towards the farm and how they could profit from raising rabbits. Crooks continues to scorn their dream until Candy reveals that they already have the land and almost all the required money. Crooks warms up to the idea and considers joining them. Their reverie is interrupted by Curley's wife, who brags about the men visiting a brothel and expresses her discontent with her marriage. Despite the men's attempts to shoo her, she vents about her desperate loneliness and mocks her own predicament. She expresses her doubts about Curley's hand injury and hints at Lennie's involvement. Crooks finally asks her to leave, but she threatens him with lynching, leaving him terrified. Candy announces the men's return, forcing her to leave. She expresses her satisfaction over Lennie hurting her husband before leaving. On returning, George scolds Candy for sharing their farm plans. As they leave, Crooks changes his mind about joining them on the farm.

section 5

Lennie, alone in the barn, mourns the death of his puppy, which he accidentally killed. He fears George will be mad and won't let him tend to the rabbits on their future farm. He tries to devise a lie, but realizes George will see through it. Angry at the puppy, he throws it across the room, but soon retrieves it, hoping George won't mind since the puppy had no value to him. Curley's wife finds Lennie and they start talking. She uncovers the puppy and comforts Lennie, then opens up about her isolation and how she is treated poorly by the ranch workers. She shares her shattered dreams of a different life; she could have joined a traveling show or become a film star but ended up marrying Curley, who she doesn't like. Lennie talks about the rabbits again, which leads to a discussion about his love for petting soft things. Curley's wife allows him to stroke her hair, but when he gets too excited and frightens her, she screams. Lennie attempts to silence her, but in his panic, he accidentally kills her. Realizing what he’s done, Lennie hides her body in the hay and runs off to the meeting place in the woods that George had specified at the beginning of the book. Candy discovers the body and fetches George, who immediately understands what happened. George fears for Lennie's safety, knowing Curley will want revenge. Candy inquires if they could still buy the farm, but George, painfully aware of the impossibility, admits he had only believed in the dream because Lennie did. Anticipating suspicion from the other men, George instructs Candy to pretend he found the body and George knew nothing. Candy blames Curley's wife for ruining their dream and alerts the rest of the ranch. A mob forms, and Curley commands they find and kill Lennie. Realizing his gun is missing, Carlson suspects Lennie has it. The men grab Crooks's shotgun and pursue Lennie.

section 6

In the tranquil riverbed where everything began, a heron busily feeds on water snakes. Lennie sneaks in, satisfied that he remembered to wait for George there. However, he starts seeing unsettling visions. He imagines his Aunt Clara scolding him for causing trouble and making things difficult for George, his only friend. This is followed by the vision of a giant rabbit predicting that George will leave him. Then, George arrives, unusually quiet and lacking energy. He doesn’t reprimand Lennie, even when Lennie insists. George’s usual admonishment feels forced and lackluster. As always, Lennie proposes to leave and live in a cave. George, instead, asks him to stay, providing him with hope and comfort. Lennie requests George to narrate their farm dream. George complies, relaying how they are different from lonesome men. Sounds from the woods get closer. George instructs Lennie to stare across the river and listens to the description of their dream farm. George assures Lennie of a life free of meanness, and Lennie urges to make that dream happen. Agreeing to Lennie, George, holding Carlson’s concealed gun, shoots Lennie in the back of the head. George discards the gun and sits by the riverbank as Lennie falls lifeless. The gunshot attracts the mob. George lets them believe that he killed Lennie in self-defense. Slim, however, understands the truth and tells George he had no choice. As Slim escorts a grieving George away, Carlson and Curley stay behind, perplexed about what is bothering the two.

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