Study Guide

Of Mice and Men

By John Steinbeck

Of Mice and Men Introduction

 

Adults can't decide if they want to require you to read John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men—or make that sure you never even pick it up. Since it was published in 1937, it's been banned about as often as it's been assigned.

Why? Take your pick, really. Killing. Violence. Swearing. Brothels. Racism. Sexism. The book's ending is beyond sad, and might be considered an endorsement of euthanasia. Not to mention, its message isn't exactly full of praise for the American way of life.

Set in the American West during the Great Depression, the book is based on Steinbeck's experiences during a 1936 assignment for the San Francisco News covering the migrant workers in California. Its two main characters, George and Lennie, embody the American struggle to survive the Depression—and capture the isolation and suffering that exist even in the land of opportunity. Despite its filthy-for-the-time language and a real downer of an ending, the book was popular right away, even being chosen as a Book-of-the-Month Club selection before it was published. (That was something like being chosen for Oprah's book club.)

And it wasn't just popular with the middle-class book club readers. Critics and scholars praised its gritty realism, and Steinbeck won the 1962 Nobel Prize for Literature  on the strength of this book and others like it. Although shorter than his super-famous The Grapes of Wrath, Of Mice and Men has all the same themes in one smaller, bite-sized package.

(Click the setting infographic to download.)

What is Of Mice and Men About and Why Should I Care?

Do you care about questions like, "How bad, exactly, is prejudice?," and "Are we responsible for the welfare of other people?," and "Are men and women different?"

Of course you do. Then you'll care about Of Mice and Men, even if your answers are slightly different. Here's a quick run-down of what to expect:

  • Does prejudice suck? Yes.
  • Are we all prejudiced? Yes.
  • Are we each responsible for the welfare of other people? Yes.
  • Is killing someone ever okay? Yes.
  • Like when it's euthanasia? Yes.
  • Are men and women different? Yes, and then again, no.
  • Is sex scary? It can be. Even when it costs $2.50. Especially when it costs $2.50.
  • Is the American Dream a little less dreamy than we all thought? Definitely.

Of Mice and Men is risky, controversial, and modern. It says that maybe we're all in big trouble—and not just from climate change, either. It says that our American notions of happiness are messed up, and if we expect perfection, or even fair play, we're in for a sad surprise. Even in a country where we pride ourselves on our supposed ability to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps, there frequently aren't enough bootstraps to go around. And when you do manage to get hold of a pair, those bootstraps often break.

Of Mice and Men Resources

Websites

Best of the Web? If We Do Say So Ourselves.
Check out Shmoop's nifty collection of depressing images from the Great Depression.

Stand Back, Steinbeck
Martha Heasley Cox has you covered, at the Center for Steinbeck Studies.

Planning a California Vacation?
Stop by the National Steinbeck Center in Salina, California.

Movie or TV Productions

Hey, Mae
You can't get much closer to the source than this 1939 production—and Curley's wife even gets a name.

Made for TV
With Robert Blake and Randy Quaid.

Star Power
John Malkovich and Gary Sinise… do we need to say more? Why aren't you watching it right now?

Documents

"A Strange Little Book"
Check out this nifty review of the first stage production in Life.

Get Out Your Pen
Or your pencil, if you're feeling unsure: here's an entire Steinbeck crossword puzzle.

Wee Beastie
Read Robert Burns' entire "To a Mouse" here, with some helpful links for the tricky dialect. Like "daimen-icker."

Black and White
Check out this neat Japanese graphic novel based on Of Mice and Men.

Video

Clear Your Schedule
It's not like you have anything better to do with the next 1:46:23 minutes than watch the full-length 1939 adaptation. Right?

Lieutenant Dan!
Gary Sinise just can't catch a break. Here he is in the trailer for the 1992 movie, two years before losing his legs in 1994's Forrest Gump.

Get Out the Hankies
George shoots Lennie. (Oops, did we spoil it?)

Audio

Sean Connery Style
Listen to a real Scotsman read Robert Burns' "To a Mouse." (We recommend reading along.)

Rest Your Eyes
And listen to this nifty, full-length audiobook.

Images

Ostrich Feathers and All
Curley's wife is wearing her finest in this poster for the 1939 movie.

Author of Tortilla Flat
Here's a nice, minimalist book cover from the first edition.