In his novella, Of Mice and Men, John Steinbeck tells the story of two migrant workers in 1930’s California, George and Lennie. George shares an unusual, and somewhat questionable, brotherly relationship with Lennie, which faces criticisms from multiple characters. In the story, Lennie has a mild mental disability, but makes up his absentmindedness with his unparalleled strength. As George and Lennie progress through the story, they meet various characters that, along with George and Lennie, convey the themes of human nature, the unachievable American dream, and friendship.
In Of Mice and Men, Steinbeck conveys the themes of human nature, the unachievable American dream, and friendship through the characters in the story. In the explored theme of human nature in the novel, Steinbeck compares the weakness of the characters to the predatory aspect of human nature. Many characters in Of Mice and Men admit to having a sense of loneliness, alienation, and weakness, seeking to destroy other people weaker than them. This predatory seek for the destruction on the weak can be demonstrated by Crooks when he puts down Lennie’s dreams of owning his own farm: “’Le’s say he (George) wants to come back and can’t.
S’pose he gets killed or hurt so he can’t come back. ’ ‘George won’t do nothing like that. George is careful. He won’t get hurt. He ain’t never been hurt, ‘cause he’s careful. ’ ‘Well, s’pose, jus’ s’pose he don’t come back. What’ll you do then? ” (p. 68). Crooks, being a black man in the 1930’s, having a crooked back, and having the desire for a companion sees Lennie, a slow-minded man, as a entryway to make himself feel better. Crooks goes from being at his weakest state to being at his strongest by putting Lennie down, making Lennie think his dream was in jeopardy and that George could be hurt.
Furthermore, Curley’s wife displays the predatory state of human nature when she insults Crooks, Lennie, and Candy: “’—Sat’iday night. Ever’body out doin’ som’pin’…An’ what am I doin’? Standin’ here talkin’ to a bunch of bindle stiffs—a nigger an’ a dum-dum and a lousy ol’ sheep—an’ likin’ it because they ain’t nobody else” (p. 75). Curley, as told in the novella, constantly neglects his wife. Even though he pays no attention to her, Curley still limits what she can do and how she interacts with other people. Because of this she tries to replace her loneliness, or in this case anger, by talking to the men at the ranch.
Ultimately, the strength that we see in people used to oppress others is only itself coming from a weakness. In Of Mice and Men, Steinbeck conveys the theme of the unachievable American Dream through George and Lennie’s dream of owning a ranch. In the novella, George and Lennie reassure themselves they will not have to tend to someone else’s ranch and will soon have there own: “’O. K. Someday—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’,’” (p. 3). Throughout the novel George repeats this line more often and it even acts as one of the few things Lennie remembers. It appears the more times they reassure themselves of this dream, the more it shifts from reality to fantasy. This dream also catches the imagination of other characters in the novel, one being Crooks. Crooks, who naturally does not believe in the luxury of dreaming, becomes transformed by Lennie’s thinking: “’…If you…guys would want a hand to work for nothing—just his keep, why I’d come an’ lend a hand’” (p. 73).
This quotation suggests every American succumbs to the idea of the American dream. This quotation also suggests the characters that have dreams of a brighter future, like Candy, George, and Lennie, would have nothing without them. Ultimately, through multiple examples in the novel, Steinbeck suggests the American dream acts more of as a motivator rather than a reality. Finally, Steinbeck conveys the theme of friendship through George and Lennie. Friendship plays a major role in the story development, greatly affecting the actions of George and Lennie.
George demonstrates this theme’s effect on him when he talks to Lennie about sticking together: “’Where the hell could you go? ’…’How’d you eat. You ain’t got sense enough to find nothing to eat. ’ ‘I’d find things, George. I don’t need no nice food with ketchup. ’…George looked quickly and searchingly at him. ‘I been mean, ain’t I? ’ (p. 11-12). At first, it seems George regretfully carries the burden of taking care of Lennie, but, when studied further, George sees Lennie more of as a friend instead of a burden.
In this quotation, George displays his friendship when he acknowledges his harshness after he yells at Lennie. George’s friendship with Lennie also becomes evident at the end of the novella where Georges execution of Lennie demonstrates an act of kindness on behalf of their friendship. George, instead of letting Curley give him a long, painful death, gives Lennie a short and painless one. Additionally, the theme of friendship also affects Lennie when he recites part of George and his dream of owning a ranch: “But not us!
An’ why? Because…because I got you to look after me and you got me to look after you, and that’s why. ’ ‘…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’’” (p. 13). This quotation suggests Lennie needs George or else his dream will not be a believable accomplishment. This suggestion helps conclude that Lennie sees George as his friend and guide through life, and, without him, Lennie will not know what to do with himself or where to go any longer.
Throughout, Of Mice and Men, Steinbeck uses the story’s characters to convey the themes of human nature, the unachievable American dream, and friendship. As the novella demonstrates each of these themes, more information about the thoughts of the characters becomes revealed. This information also provides insight to how people think and why they act in certain ways. Ultimately, by conveying the themes of human nature, the unachievable American dream, and friendship through his characters, Steinbeck connects his writings of fiction to reality.