"Of Mice and Men"

Northeast Book Club

The Northeast Book Club met again on April 24. The book we discussed was Of Mice and Men
by John Steinbeck. This is the story of two migrant workers: George is a small, dark man with “sharp,
strong features,” and Lennie, his opposite and companion, is a giant and loves petting soft things
but often accidentally kills them.

Lennie, who has a mild mental disability, is deeply devoted to George and dependent upon him for protection and guidance. George believes that his life would be easier without having to care for Lennie, but they are bound together by a strong friendship and mutual devotion. He and Lennie share a dream of buying their own piece of land, farming it, and, much to Lennie’s delight, keeping rabbits. 

The men report to a nearby ranch for work. George, fearing how the boss will react to Lennie, insists that he’ll do all the talking. They are hired. They meet Candy, an old “swamper,” or handyman,  with a missing hand and an ancient dog; Slim, the skilled mule driver who wields great authority on the ranch; and Curley, the boss’s mean-spirited son. Curley is newly married, possessive of his flirtatious wife, and full of jealous suspicion. George warns Lennie to stay away from her. 

Later, in a conversation with Curley’s wife, Lennie tells her that he loves petting soft things, and she
offers to let him feel her hair. When he grabs too tightly, she cries out. In an attempt to silence
her, he accidentally breaks her neck.

Lennie runs to a hiding place near the Salinas River that George had designated as a meeting place
should either of them get into trouble. As the ranchers discover the incident and gather a lynching party, George joins Lennie. Much to Lennie’s surprise, George is not angry at him. George, while telling Lennie the story of the farm they will have together and describing the rabbits that Lennie will tend, hears the sound of the approaching lynching party and shoots his friend in the back of the head.

George gives the ranchers the impression that it was an accident, but Slim understands what has really
happened, that George has killed his friend out of mercy.

Members commented on the degree of intimacy and empathy between George and Lenny, the American dream  they share of owning a place to call their own -- a couple of acres and a few pigs, chickens, and
rabbits -- which is almost realized thanks to the “Swamper” but ruined by a cruel trick of fate,  misunderstanding, jealousy and desire. 

One member lamented the tragic ends of Curley’s wife and Lennie. We also speculated on the lamentable fate of the “Swamper,” who is disabled and will become homeless and helpless when he is no
longer of use to his employer.

Our next meeting is on May 24, and the book up for discussion is Ernest J. Gaines'  A Lesson Before
Dying.