Reading Comprehension - Literature: 'Of Mice and Men' (Lecture Notes)

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Lecture notes on the novel 'Of Mice and Men'. Of Mice and Men is a novella written by John Steinbeck. Published in 1937, it narrates the experiences of George Milton and Lennie Small, two displaced migrant ranch workers, who move from place to place in California in search of new job opportunities during the Great Depression in the United States.
1. Of Mice and Men
Chapter 1 Notes
Setting and theme
 notice that the setting is “a few miles south of Soledad” (1)—which comes
from the same root as “solitude,” meaning “loneliness”
 this leads into the theme in the very first sentence—this book is all about the
loneliness of human beings and how they try to form connections with each
other in order to avoid being alone
References to animals—rabbits, dogs, mice
 also notice that in the first paragraph—“Rabbits come out of the brush to sit
on the sand in the evening, and the damp flats are covered with the night
tracks of ‘coons, and with the spread pads of dogs form the ranches” (1)
 the references to “rabbits” and “dogs” place them in a natural, peaceful
 notice Lennie’s obsession with these animals as the book continues—and
how his love for them ends this peace
 “On the sand banks the rabbits sat as quietly as little gray, sculptured stones”
and then, when Lennie and George appear, “The rabbits hurried noiselessly
for cover.” (2)
 Notice any references to rabbits, dogs, mice throughout—Steinbeck uses
these as foreshadowing
We meet Lennie and George
 when we are first introduced to Lennie and George, it is in a peaceful, safe,
natural setting, in the countryside
 “Both were dressed in demin trousers and in denim coats with brass buttons.
Both wore black, shapeless hats and both carried tight blanket rolls slung
over their shoulders.” (2)
 they are migrant workers in search of a job on a ranch
 they are on their way to a ranchhouse to try to find work
 George complains bitterly that the bus driver let them off too far from their
destination, forcing them to walk 4+ miles in the heat
 What can we conclude about George from his style of speech?
 “The first man was small and quick, dark of face, with restless eyes and sharp,
strong features. Every part of him was defined: small, strong hands, slender
arms, a thin and bony nose.” (2)
2.  the first time we see him, he is taking care of Lennie—worried about the
quality of the water, trying to keep Lennie from making himself sick by
drinking too much
 this is George’s role in the novel (and in life)—to take care of Lennie, because
Lennie cannot take care of himself.
 “even in the open one stayed behind the other” (2)
 this first description of Lennie shows that he understands that his role is to
follow George—he defers to George (his leader and caretaker) in all things
 “Behind [George] walked his opposite, a huge man, shapeless of face, with
large, pale eyes, with wide, sloping shoulders; and he walked heavily,
dragging his feet a little, the way a bear drags his paws. His arms did not
swing at his sides, but hung loosely.” (2)
 notice that the first time we meet Lennie, he is characterized as a large,
stupid animal
 Lennie then throws himself down at the pond and “drank with long gulps,
snorting into the water like a horse” (3)
 Again, characterized as an animal
 “Lennie dabbled his big paw in the water” (3)—again, animal like
 “Lennie, who had been watching, imitated George exactly. He pushed himself
back, drew up his knees, embraced them, looked over to George to see
whether he had it just right. He pulled his hat down a little more over his
eyes, the way George’s hat was.” (4)
 Lennie clearly admires George and wants to be like him
Their destination
 Lennie then asks George where they are going
 George is frustrated; Lennie has apparently been told several times already
and keeps forgetting
 All that Lennie seems to be able to remember is “the rabbits”
Searching for work
 George asks, “You remember settin’ in that gutter on Howard Street and
watchin’ that blackboard?” (5)
 this would be in San Francisco, where they watched for announcements of
jobs at an employment agency
 the “work cards” indicate the jobs they are given through the employment
 note that George keeps Lennie’s work card for him so that he doesn’t lose
it—again, taking care of him
The mouse
 Lennie has been carrying a dead mouse in his pocket
3.  “Jus’ a dead mouse, George. I didn’ kill it. Honest! I found it. I found it dead.”
 what do we learn/can we assume from the fact that Lennie immediately
reassures George that he didn’t kill the mouse?
 clearly, Lennie knows that George will assume that he killed it—hinting that
Lennie has, in fact, killed things in the past
 Why does Lennie keep a dead mouse in his pocket?
 “I could pet it with my thumb while we walked along” (6)
 this is where we are first introduced to Lennie’s love of soft things
 George tosses the mouse away—can be viewed as simple disdain for the
dead animal, or could be viewed as “hiding the evidence” to protect Lennie
More talk of their destination
 Lennie again forgets where they’re going
 George tells him that they are “gonna work on a ranch like the one we come
from up north” (6)
 This leads the reader to wonder why they left their old jobs in Weed (a town
in northern California)
 George cautions Lennie not to say a word when they arrive at the ranch and
meet the boss—why?
 He fears they will not be given jobs if the boss realizes there is something
mentally wrong with Lennie
Leaving Weed
 George tells Lennie, “An’ you ain’t gonna do no bad things like you done in
Weed, neither.” (7)
 Apparently Lennie doesn’t remember what he did
 Lennie then remembers that they were “run outta Weed” (7), although
George says they ran away on their own
 How might this tie to Lennie’s obsession with the mice? (foreshadowing,
good time to have students predict the story)
More on the mouse
 when Lennie goes to collect wood for a fire, he digs through the water and
the bushes to find the dead mouse again
 he tries to act innocent when George asks him for it, but he is not
convincing—he is too childlike
 “George’s hand remained outstretched imperiously. Slowly, like a terrier
who doesn’t want to bring a ball to its master, Lennie approached, drew back,
approached again. George snapped his fingers sharply, and at the sound
Lennie laid the mouse in his hand.” (9)
 notice what happens here—Lennie is likened to a dog, and George to his
 Lennie cries “like a baby” (9) when George takes the mouse away
 George feels guilty and tries to comfort Lennie
4.  “I ain’t takin’ it away jus’ for meanness. That mouse ain’t fresh, Lennie; and
besides, you’ve broke it pettin’ it.” (9)
 Lennie says he remembers a nice woman who used to give him mice
 George says this was Lennie’s Aunt Clara
 George also says that she eventually stopped giving Lennie mice, because
Lennie always killed them
 Lennie says, “They was so little. I’d pet ‘em, and pretty soon they bit my
fingers and I pinched their heads a little and then they was dead—because
they was so little.” (9-10)
 Notice that Lennie does not have any malicious intent or intent to harm in
him—he just is not aware of his own strength
 Lennie says he wishes for rabbits to pet as well…. But what can we assume
might happen to them?
Settling in for the night
 George says they will spend the night in this clearing by the pond, to relax
and enjoy being in nature before going to the ranch to work in the morning
 Lennie wants supper, so George sends him to collect wood
 They build a fire and heat beans over the fire
 Lennie wants ketchup, which leads to George getting angry with him
 George explodes at Lennie, talking about how much easier his life would be
without him…. let’s take a second to consider the ways in which Lennie
complicates George’s life. (he has to care for Lennie while traveling, he has
been fired from jobs because of Lennie, he has to find work for 2 people
instead of 1, etc.)
 Lennie eventually says he wouldn’t eat ketchup even if they had any, because
he would give it all to George—this is his childish way of making up to
More on what happened in Weed
 “Jus’ wanted to feel that girl’s dress—jus’ wanted to pet it like it was a
mouse—Well, how the hell did she know you jus’ wanted to feel her dress?
She jerks back and you hold on like it was a mouse. She yells and we got to
hide in an irrigation ditch all day with guys lookin’ for us, and we got to sneak
out in the dark and get outta the country.” (11)
 notice that Lennie’s intentions were innocent, but he did not understand the
context of his actions or the power of his own strength
 notice also that George protected Lennie and fled with him, refusing to leave
Lennie on his own
Lennie offers to leave
 he says, “I could go off in the hills there. Some place I’d find a cave.” (12)
 again, like an animal
 George tells him that he couldn’t survive on his own
5.  George says, “I was jus’ foolin’, Lennie. ‘Cause I want you to stay with me.”
 Why would George want Lennie to stay with him, in spite of all the trouble he
 lead students toward the idea that in the itinerant life of a migrant worker,
Lennie is George’s only constant, his sense of “home” and “belonging”
 George tries to make peace by saying, “Tell you what I’ll do, Lennie. First
chance I get I’ll give you a pup. Maybe you wouldn’t kill it. That’d be better
than mice. And you could pet it harder.” (13)
George and Lennie recite their mutual dream
 men who work on ranches are lonely, because they don’t have any family or
anywhere to belong
 most men blow their wages, but Lennie and George try to save their money
 a repeated line that Lennie takes comfort in: “But not us! An’ why?
Because…. Because I got you to look after me, and you got me to look after
you, and that’s why.” (14)
 why is this important? What is the basis of their relationship?
 They plan to save up, buy some land, and have a house with some livestock
 They want to “live off the fatta the lan’” (14)
 Lennie’s favorite part is that they will have rabbits in cages and that it will be
his job to take care of them
One more thing to remember
 George encourages Lennie when Lennie remembers he is not to speak to the
boss of the ranch
 George tells Lennie that if “if you jus’ happen to get in trouble like you always
done before, I want you to come right here an’ hide in the brush” (15)
 Lennie says he can remember this