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Of Mice and Men Themes

From loneliness to the Great Depression, read our analysis of the main themes in Of Mice and Men, and find essay examples to help you write your own.

Isolation

George and Lennie’s friendship marks them out as different from the other characters on the ranch. Slim says of them “I hardly never seen two guys ever travel together.” Even the only other couple – Curley and his wife – have no real relationship. The ranch -hands come and go, largely anonymous. Those who stay, like Candy and Crooks, have no family or friends. The ranch-hands’ leisure consists of drinking, watching others fight and visiting brothels [“cat houses”]. George tells Lennie: “We got somebody to talk to that gives a damn about us.” Hence the terrible irony when George has to kill his closest friend.

Dreams

The American Dream promises equal chances for all to make good in a free society. For George and Lennie this means buying their own ranch and being their own boss. Both Candy and Crooks are drawn into this while Curley’s wife feels she’s lost her chance of Hollywood stardom. The poignancy of the story is that momentarily it looks as if their dream might be realised. The reader feels it too, but ominous signs from the start – unease even before they arrive at the ranch, and when they first meet Curley – show the impossibility of the dream for most ordinary Americans.

Friendship

George and Lennie are the only true friends in the novel. There’s no real reason why they travel together. George can’t even explain it himself. His deep sense of humanity is shown by his protectiveness towards his friend. He admits to Slim he once teased Lennie whose naivety nearly led to him drowning. He knows there’s no malice in Lennie. And he comforts Lennie with the repeated story of their dream, a comfort for them both. Theirs is the only relationship of warmth in the novel. The end of the novel shows the expression of something closer to love than mere friendship.

Structure

The story begins and ends in the same place – by the river - though most of the action takes place on the ranch. Thus Steinbeck shapes the fiction to a tragic pattern and when it looks as if things may work out well, something ominous occurs. Other events anticipate what will follow. Lennie’s need to touch the dead mouse leads him to fatally pet the hair of Curley’s wife. Similarly when Candy is reluctantly persuaded to allow Carlson to shoot his dog, this foreshadows George’s terrible dilemma at the close when he knows he must shoot his friend to save Lennie from a more awful fate. We remember that George’s feeling of unease before they reach the ranch means he knows where to find his friend.