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The best-laid schemes o' mice an' men

Gang aft agley[1],

An' lea'e[2] us nowt[3] but grief an' pain

For promis'd joy!
Robert Burns, "To a Mouse"
"Tell me how it's gonna be, George!"
Lennie Small

Of Mice and Men is a 1937 novel, one of John Steinbeck's most famous ones, set during The Great Depression. It involves Lennie Small (a mentally-impaired Gentle Giant) and George Milton, migrant farmworkers who arrive in a farm in California, who hope to save up enough money to open a rabbit farm, but... things go pretty wrong.

One of the most challenged books of the 20th and 21st centuries and a frequent target of censors, who criticized it for bad language, "promoting euthanasia" and being "anti-business". However, it remains very popular and is a widely used School Study Media. It has also had several film adaptations, including theatrical releases in 1939 and 1992 and made-for-TV versions in 1968 and 1981.


This novel contains examples of:

  • The Ace: Slim.
  • Accidental Murder: Lennie kills Curly's wife.
  • Adaptation Expansion: The 1992 film. It adds scenes not present in the book such as showing scenes where the men are working, Curley's wife flirting with George in the barn, and Book Ends where George is hitching a ride on a train.
    • Additionally, Steinbeck's own play version of the book, in which he expands on a few characters for the purposes of drama. (Note that the book itself may be performed as a play without changing a word, and it was written for this purpose, but a few dramatists wanted a longer version.)
  • And Call Him George: Shares Trope Namer honors with Looney Tunes.
  • Badass: Slim. He is the only man on the ranch who Curley even slightly respects, or more importantly is afraid of. When Curley thinks that Slim is getting familiar with his wife, and Curley goes off to investigate, Carlson has six words to say on the matter: 'You'd better not tangle with Slim!'
  • Better to Die Than Be Killed: It's George who decides what's best for Lennie.
  • Beware the Nice Ones: Curley started that fight, and Lennie finished it.
    • Slim, as was emphasised quite nicely by Carlton:

"You tried to throw a scare into Slim, an' you couldn't make it stick. Slim throwed a scare into you!"

  • Beige Prose: At some points. Justified in that this was originally written to be a screenplay.
  • Big Guy, Little Guy
  • Body Motifs: Curly has a hand motif: His glove full of Vaseline, his status as a prized fighter, and how his hands are broken by Lennie.
  • Book Dumb: George. Has cunning and intelligent moments, but has almost no education. He also points out once that he's only smart in comparison to Lennie.
  • The Caretaker: George to Lennie.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Carlson's Luger.
  • Chronic Pet Killer: Played for sadness.
  • Cloudcuckoolander: Lennie.
  • Cloudcuckoolander's Minder: George is one of the best examples out there. He makes sure Lennie stays safe, keeps him fed, explains his oddities to other people, and finally sends him to the afterlife himself rather than let a lynch mob do the job.
  • Conversation Casualty: At the end of the book, George is calmly talking to Lennie about the farm they've always dreamed of; he asks Lennie to close his eyes while talking, and George pulls out a gun and shoots him in the head. A non-villainous version, as George is doing this so that Lennie will die calm and happy.
  • Crapsack World: Well, it is set in The Great Depression...
  • Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass: Oh sure, Lennie is dumb as a post and pretty gentle to boot, but Curley's crushed hand will testify that he is not someone you provoke.
  • Dirty Coward: Curley. To. A. Tee!
  • Does Not Know His Own Strength: Lennie, possibly the Trope Codifier.
  • Downer Ending: C'mon, you know you cried.
  • Dumb Muscle: Lennie is a deconstruction of this trope, with almost all the death in the book is caused by Lennie accidentally killing something, due to his strength, and not realising this until it is too late.
  • Foreshadowing: The whole scene about Candy's dog foreshadowed the end of the book.
    • Or, if English teachers everywhere are to be believed, everything.
  • Fountain of Expies: You'll probably notice how popular the small, smart guy/big, strong doofus dynamic got after this novel.
  • Gentle Giant: Lennie again.
  • Have a Gay Old Time: George constantly states that Curley's wife will get them in trouble because she is "jail bait." Jail bait?
  • Heterosexual Life Partners: It's very easy to mistakenly assume the two protagonists are brothers. George uses this to his advantage, telling everyone that Lennie is his cousin.
  • His Story Repeats Itself: Lennie has a history of getting in trouble for touching soft things.
  • Hope Spot: When George, Lennie and Candy club together to raise the money to buy the ranch George talks about. It doesn't last.
  • I Coulda Been a Contender: Curley's Wife. At least she thinks so.
  • I Just Want to Have Friends: Curley's wife is lonely and just wants to talk to the workers. They avoid her because they don't want to have trouble with her husband.
    • Crooks, too, longs for companionship, although he's less open about it and masks his loneliness with surliness.
  • I Never Got Any Letters: Invoked.
  • Ironic Name: Lennie's last name is Small. It's lampshaded (rather obviously) by Carlson, who finds this funny.
  • Jerkass: Does anyone actually like Curley? No. No one does.
    • To a lesser extent, his buddy Carlson.
  • Lightning Bruiser: Lennie. Case and point, Curley's supposed to be one of the best boxers around, and Lennie caught Curley's fist as it was flying at his face.
  • Literary Allusion Title: Rabbie Burns' "To A Mouse". If you know the rest of the poem, you won't be expecting a Happy Ending.
  • Mercy Kill: George shoots Lennie in the back of the head to spare him the agony of being killed by Curley, locked in a cage, or whatever else may have happened.
  • The Messiah: Slim, he has the majesty of a 'king or a master craftsman'. Now, who was both a king and a craftsman? Jesus.
  • Nice Guy: Slim! He's the nicest bloke on the ranch! He actually speaks kindly with everyone on the ranch, even the really reprehensible Curley. George (who is wary of everyone who comes within three feet of him and Lenny) warms up to him really well, and when George is forced to kill Lennie, Slim consoles him, then takes him away to have a drink, and assures him that it was the only thing he could have done for Lennie - while Carlton and Curley watch and wonder what the hell is going on!
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Lennie.
  • No Name Given: Curley's wife, The Boss.
  • The Napoleon: Curley.
  • Princess Curls: Curley's wife has hair "coiled like sausages".
  • Resentful Guardian: George once laments early on that if not for having to spend money on Lennie and his moments of stupidity interfering with his plans, he could spend his money as he wanted. Then again, this was said in a fit of anger that Lennie caused, and once Lennie is killed, George is clearly not at all happy about the future that awaits him.
  • Rule of Symbolism: Steinbeck's use of animals, in many ways.
  • Scary Black Man: Lennie has been played by black actors, but Steinbeck never says he is and most portrayals have him as white. If he were, he'd be subjected to the same treatment as Crooks, who is black.
    • In the book George is said to be "dark of face",could also be interpreted as just being tan from working in the sun,though.
    • That Crooks said Lennie was unwelcome in his room is proof Lennie wasn't supposed to be black.
  • Shoot the Dog: Literally, also shoot the big guy.
  • Shoot the Shaggy Dog: Steinbeck loves this trope.
  • Survival Mantra: George's story about the farm with the rabbits is this for both him and Lennie. He's recited it so many times that Lennie has it memorized, but would rather hear it from George.
  • Tell Me Again: Played for its usual purpose as Exposition in the first chapter, but justified since Lennie's mental disabilities affect his short-term memory.
  • The Smurfette Principle: Curley's wife is the only female character that physically appears in the book.
  • Spell My Name with an "S": It's "Lennie" in the text, not "Lenny".
  • Tragic Dream: After Lennie accidentally kills Curley's wife, George concedes that their dream could never have been realized.
  • Unwitting Instigator of Doom: Curley's Wife's actions near the end made things go downhill from there.
  • Vagabond Buddies: George and Lennie.
  • Wham! Episode: Chapter 5.
  • Write What You Know: Steinbeck says Lennie was based on someone he actually knew who put a pitchfork through an overseer.

Notes

  1. Scots, "often go wrong"
  2. Scots, "leave"
  3. Scots, "nothing"
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