***Warning: Spoilers Ahead!***
Summary: This fictional novella depicts life for two traveling workers during the Great Depression. George and Lenny are two men who are constant companions as exemplified in the book’s theme: it doesn’t matter who you are with, so long as you are with someone.
Lenny is a mentally challenged but hardworking giant of a man. George, his opposite in every way, is also his protector. The pair plan to eventually buy a farm together so that they may work their own land and keep animals, including Lenny’s beloved rabbits.
The friends get jobs working on a ranch, where they meet the wife of their boss’s son. Lenny, out of love for “soft” things, grabs the woman’s hair. When she screams, Lenny panics and accidentally kills her. Lenny runs to the place George told him was safe, and awaits the arrival of his friend in fear that he will no longer be allowed to tend the rabbits on their imaginary farm.
Out of mercy and compassion, George sends the lynch mob on a detour and finds Lenny on his own. George begins again to describe their farm and wonderful future while Lenny listens excitedly. In the midst of this distraction, George shoots Lenny in the back of the head.
Reflection: There is a great deal of symbolism present in this novel. Its title is taken from a poem by Robert Burns: the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry. George may represent “men,” who do things that must be done whether they wish to do them or not. The lynch mob may represent “mice,” as they set out as a group in a cowardly attempt to kill an unarmed mentally handicapped man in secret.
George may also be more like Lenny than outwardly shown. Lenny killed small animals (mice, birds, a puppy) by loving them too strongly — while “petting” them as they lay in his pocket. George killed Lenny (whom he loved) while Lenny felt safe and secure — Lenny was in George’s “care” being “soothed.”
Lenny was in many ways similar to the mice he loved. Mice are often harmful but mean no harm. They are frightening but easily scared. They are likewise fragile and can be crushed easily by forces bigger than they are. Lenny similarly acts off baser instincts and was “crushed” by forces bigger than he: his circumstances; his lack of natural intelligence; his inability to control himself; his friends; and smarter “prey” meaning to harm him.