Of Mice and Men
by John Steinbeck
Of Mice and Men George Milton Quotes
George said, "Slim, will we get canned now? We need the stake. Will Curley's old man can us now?"
Slim smiled wryly. He knelt down beside Curley. "You got your senses in hand enough to listen?" he asked. Curley nodded. "Well then listen," Slim went on. "I think you got your han' caught in a machine. If you don't tell nobody what happened, we ain't going to. But you jus' tell an' try to get this guy canned and we'll tell ever'body, an' then will you get the laugh. (3.259-260)
Slim is the ranch's judge, jury, and jailor: he assess the situation, decides who needs to be punished, and then carries out that punishment. It works okay if a guy like Slim is in charge, but what happens if a guy like Curley managed to gain control? Or is Steinbeck saying that only a man like Slim could earn the necessary respect?
"Guys like us, that work on ranches, are the loneliest guys in the world. They got no family. They don't belong no place. They come to a ranch an' work up a stake and then they go inta town and blow their stake, and the first thing you know they're poundin' their tail on some other ranch. They ain't got nothing to look ahead to." (1.113)
Whatever the American Dream is, this isn't it: a bunch of lonely, itinerant farmworkers that George describes as being without family or hope. Steinbeck seems to be saying that you can't build a nation on these men—and we're inclined to agree.
"For two bits I'd shove out of here. If we can get jus' a few dollars in the poke we'll shove off and go up the American River and pan gold. We can make maybe a couple of dollars a day there, and we might hit a pocket." (2.166)
What George fantasizes about here is a Grade A American Dream: heading out West to pan for gold, and striking it rich. Too bad that's only ever happened to maybe a handful of people in the entire country. The people who really got rich from the gold rush were the shopkeepers: it's not as romantic, but everyone needs to buy shovels and boots.