Of Mice and Men

John Steinbeck

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Plot Summary

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

Of Mice and Men | Plot Summary

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Summary

Of Mice and Men takes place near Soledad, California, in the midst of America's Great Depression during the 1930s. As the book opens, two main characters, George and Lennie, approach a tranquil pool, which is part of the Salinas River. Lennie is a huge man who is mentally handicapped, whereas George is small in stature but has a keen mind. The two men are on their way to a ranch where they have work lined up. Lennie pets a dead mouse in his pocket because he likes petting soft things. When George sees the mouse, he throws it away. He then warns Lennie not to do anything bad at the ranch like he did at their last job. George describes their dream of one day buying a small farm "an' live off the fatta the lan'." He has repeated this dream to Lennie many times before, and Lennie never seems to tire of hearing it, especially the part about Lennie taking care of the rabbits on the farm. George tells Lennie to remember this pool and come back to it and hide if he gets in trouble at the ranch.

The next morning at the ranch, an old worker named Candy brings George and Lennie into the bunkhouse. The boss's son, a short, pugnacious young man named Curley, enters and gets annoyed with Lennie, although Lennie hasn't done or said anything. After Curley leaves, George warns Lennie about Curley wanting to fight with him and tells Lennie not to have anything to do with him. Curley's flirtatious wife then visits the bunkhouse looking for Curley. After she leaves, George declares her a "tramp" and tells Lennie not to pay any attention to her. Lennie says he doesn't like this place, but George insists they have to stay until they earn a stake.

George meets the unofficial head of the ranch workers, Slim. As the jerkline skinner, Slim can easily handle a whole team of mules with just one yank on their reins. He gives Lennie one of his pups. George tells Slim how he and Lennie got together and then confesses that Lennie got in trouble at their previous job when he wanted to feel a dress that a girl was wearing. Curley bursts into the bunkhouse searching for his wife. He then hurries to the barn. Then a worker named Carlson convinces Candy that his old dog needs to be shot because it is useless and stinks. Candy is devastated. George again describes the dream farm to Lennie, and Candy offers to chip in a partial payment if he can live on the farm with George and Lennie. George agrees. Curley returns and picks a fight with Lennie, punching him in the face. When George yells for Lennie to fight back, Lennie grabs Curley's fist and crushes it. To prevent George and Lennie from getting fired, Slim convinces Curley to say his hand got caught in a machine.

Crooks is an African American who lives alone in a harness room in the barn. It is Saturday night, and most of the men are in town. Crooks is angry at white people for treating him as inferior, so he gets back at them by not allowing anyone in his room except for Slim and the boss. He grudgingly allows Lennie to visit his room but scares him by asking what he would do if George never came back from town. When Candy enters and talks about their future farm, Crooks insists the dream won't happen. Workers always waste their money, Crooks says. Curley's wife enters, looking for Curley. She suspects Lennie busted her husband's hand and then flirts with Lennie. After Curley's wife leaves, George comes in the room and leaves with Lennie and Candy.

Alone in the barn, Lennie looks sadly at his puppy, which he has accidentally killed. Curley's wife enters the barn and talks to Lennie, who is hesitant to talk to her. Curley's wife places Lennie's hand on her hair and asks him to feel how soft it is. When Lennie strokes her hair too hard, she gets upset and jerks her head away. Lennie panics and clutches her hair. As she struggles to get loose, Lennie shakes her, breaking her neck. Lennie knows he's done a bad thing, so he decides to leave and hide by the pool. Candy finds Curley's dead wife and brings in George, who immediately knows it was Lennie who killed her. George then tells a dejected Candy that their dream of getting a small farm will not happen. George leaves, and Candy brings in Curley, Slim, and other workers. George then arrives after them. When Curley realizes Lennie killed his wife, he becomes enraged and goes off to organize a lynch mob. George wonders if they could just lock Lennie up, but Slim replies that even if they could, locking Lennie up would be cruel. Carlson returns and says his gun has been stolen. Curley leads George, Curley, Slim, and the others away to hunt down Lennie.

Lennie arrives at the pool and waits for George. He imagines his Aunt Clara and a huge rabbit are scolding him about doing bad things. When George arrives, Lennie is worried George will scold him too, but he doesn't. With Lennie's prompting, George says he and Lennie are different from other guys because they have each other. Lennie becomes happy. George tells Lennie to turn around and look across the river. The kneeling Lennie obeys. George pulls out the pistol he took from Carlson and begins describing how great their life will be on their small farm. He hears the lynch mob approaching and shoots Lennie in the back of the head. Lennie slumps forward, dead. Curley, Carlson, Slim, and the rest of the mob burst onto the scene. They see that George has shot Lennie. Slim tries to console George, saying he had to do it.

Of Mice and Men Plot Diagram

Climax123456789Rising ActionFalling ActionResolutionIntroduction

Introduction

1 Lennie and George dream of buying a small farm.

Rising Action

2 Curley gets angry at Lennie.

3 Curley's wife flirts with workers.

4 George and Lennie partner with Candy to buy a small farm.

5 Curley picks fight with Lennie, who crushes Curley's hand.

6 Curley's wife flirts with Lennie.

Climax

7 Lennie accidentally kills Curley's wife.

Falling Action

8 George abandons dream of buying a small farm.

Resolution

9 George mercy kills Lennie.

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