Of Mice and Men

John Steinbeck

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Chapter 1

Course Hero's video study guide provides in-depth summary and analysis of Chapter 1 of John Steinbeck's novel Of Mice and Men.

Of Mice and Men | Chapter 1 | Summary

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Summary

Of Mice and Men is told from a third-person, objective point of view. It takes place near Soledad, California, and begins at a spot where the Salinas River forms a tranquil pool. Abundant willows line the river, and wildlife, including rabbits and lizards, live here. A beaten path, an ash pile, and a sycamore limb, "worn smooth by men who have sat on it," show that people often visit this pool. Two men walk down the path to the pool. One of the men is small, with "restless eyes, and sharp, strong features." The other man is huge and "shapeless of face." The larger man has sloping shoulders, drags his feet slightly, and lets his arms hang loosely by his sides.

The huge man, Lennie, gulps down water from the pool like a thirsty horse. The small man, George, drinks water from his cupped hand. He sits by the pool, embracing his drawn-up knees. Lennie imitates him exactly. Lennie has forgotten where they are going, and George, frustrated by his companion's poor memory, reminds him they are going to a ranch to get work. George then accuses Lennie of hiding something in his hand, an accusation that Lennie at first denies. Lennie then contritely admits his secret, opening his hand to reveal a dead mouse, which he has been keeping in his pocket and petting. When George orders him to give it up, Lennie hands it to George, who throws it away. George tells Lennie not to say anything when they talk to the boss at the ranch and to let him do the talking. Lennie tries to remember, repeating, "I ain't gonna say nothin'." George also tells Lennie that at their new job, Lennie must avoid any behavior of the sort he exhibited at their previous job, which was near the town of Weed.

George decides they are going to camp by the pool and head to the ranch in the morning, and he sends Lennie off to gather wood for a campfire. When Lennie returns, George knows that he has retrieved the dead mouse. He demands that Lennie hand it over again, and George then throws the mouse as far as he can into the brush. George explains that he doesn't want Lennie to pet the dead mouse, because it isn't fresh. George reminds Lennie how Lennie's Aunt Clara used to give him live mice to pet and how she stopped because Lennie always accidentally killed them. They get a campfire burning and warm up cans of beans. George complains about all the things he could do if he wasn't tied down taking care of Lennie. "I could eat any place I want, hotel or any place," he says. Lennie feels guilty and offers to go off into the hills and live in a cave. George feels bad about his complaints and tells Lennie he doesn't want him to leave.

Lennie then asks George to tell about the rabbits, and even though George has told this story many times before, he talks again about the farm he and Lennie dream of having. Lennie listens intently. George says they have a future because they have each other. Eventually they are going to get a place of their own, with a garden and rabbits in cages. They start to eat their beans. George tells Lennie that if he gets into trouble at the ranch, to come to this pool and hide. Lennie says he'll remember.

Analysis

In Chapter 1, Steinbeck introduces the two main characters, George and Lennie, who are bindlestiffs—migrant workers who move from ranch to ranch harvesting crops. They make an odd couple but are close friends.

The chapter also introduces one of the main themes of the book, that of loneliness and friendship. From the start of the chapter, George and Lennie obviously have a strong bond. George is concerned about Lennie and often acts like a frustrated parent teaching and sometimes scolding a child. He tells Lennie not to drink water that isn't moving and not to hold a dead mouse. Sometimes the frustration boils over, as when Lennie says he wants to keep the dead mouse and George responds, "You gonna give me that mouse or do I have to sock you?" George also complains at length about how Lennie is tying him down. This contentious relationship makes the reader wonder why George puts up with Lennie at all. Steinbeck soon provides the answer. George explains to Lennie that most migrant workers don't have anybody else. "Guys like us, that work on ranches, are the loneliest guys in the world," he says. But George and Lennie are different because they have each other: "We got a future. We got somebody ... that gives a damn about us." So the friendship forged between George and Lennie provides them with hope that they can attain their dream of a better life.

A second theme introduced is that of the dream. George and Lennie's dream is to get a small farm with a house, a garden, and rabbits and chickens. George has recited his description of their dream to Lennie again and again, using almost identical wording. In fact, Lennie knows what George is going to say about their imagined home before he says it. This dream therefore has become a type of prayer George recites to provide them with hope and faith in their future. The dream also resembles the goals a young family might talk about. In this way, George and Lennie's dream reflects the close bond between them.

Steinbeck uses foreshadowing to convey a sense that something ominous is going to happen. The first hint is when George relates how Lennie often accidentally kills the mice he pets. Even though he is a gentle soul, Lennie can inadvertently do harm because he doesn't know his own strength. George then mentions the trouble he and Lennie got into at their last job, hinting that Lennie did something bad. George is obviously concerned that Lennie might have trouble at the ranch. He tells his friend to remember the pond and to come back to it and hide if he gets in trouble. George strongly foreshadows that something bad is going to happen to him and his companion.

Documents for Chapter 1

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Questions for Chapter 1

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