It seems like a lot of my classmates have read this book earlier in their academic careers. I haven’t. But I did read The Grapes of Wrath my junior year of high school, and I was not a fan, so I wasn’t really expecting to like Of Mice and Men. I was surprised to find myself enjoying it. I think it was the odd relationship between George and Lennie that drew me in. In a way, George seems like a big-brother-figure to Lennie: he’s tough on him about some things (like the mouse), but goes soft when Lennie asks him to tell about the ranch. In an “aww”-worthy moment, he tells Lennie “We got a future. We got somebody to talk to that gives a damn about us” (14). This ranch is everything they’ve ever dreamed of. It symbolizes the American Dream. But in retrospect, this moment is bittersweet. They don’t end up getting their ranch. The novella ends with George again telling Lennie about the ranch, right before he shoots him. It seems as though this novella is suggesting that the American Dream isn’t really attainable. People believe in it to give themselves motivation, but they will never accomplish their ultimate goal.
The shooting of Lennie also provides an interesting call-back to the shooting of Candy’s dog. Candy loved his dog, but he agreed to let him be shot. The dog was suffering, and shooting him would give him a quick, painless death. Similarly, George is clearly pained at having to kill Lennie. But if he doesn’t do it, Curley will make sure Lennie’s death is long and painful. So George killed Lennie himself, to prevent more suffering.
The role of women in the novella is quite unflattering. The only woman actually present is Curley’s wife (it’s also telling that she isn’t even given a name). The only other women referenced are Lennie’s Aunt Clara, the prostitutes at the whorehouse, and the girl who accused Lennie of rape. With the possible exception of Aunt Clara, women in the novella have no emotional connections with men. They only exist for sexual relationships. Curley’s wife tries to emotionally connect with the men on the ranch, but she is always brushed off. Partly because they’re afraid she’s going to get them in trouble, and partly because of traditional gender roles – “Ranch with a bunch of guys on it ain’t no place for a girl, ‘specially like her” (51). Maybe it’s because she’s always ignored that she seeks out Lennie to talk to. She’s just lonely.