Mimsy Were the Borogoves

Book Reviews: From political histories to bad comics, to bad comics of political histories. And the occasional rant about fiction and writing.

Mimsy Review: Of Mice and Men

Reviewed by Jerry Stratton, July 17, 2001

Lennie got up from his bunk and sat down at the table, across from George. Almost automatically George shuffled the cards and laid out his solitaire hand. He used a deliberate, thoughtful slowness.
Lennie reached for a face card and studied it, then turned it upside down and studied it. “Both ends the same,” he said. “George, why is it both ends the same?”
“I don’t know,” said George. “That’s jus’ the way they make ‘em.”

From time to time you still hear talk of the coming of the “Great American Novel”. If there has ever been a great American writer, in my mind Steinbeck is it, and if he is, the great Novel with a capital N is “Of Mice and Men”.

AuthorJohn Steinbeck
Length107 pages
Book Rating8

While it retains traces of the whimsical spirit of Steinbeck’s “Cannery Row”, this is a much more serious story. It is a real story of real people who you probably know, albeit in different jobs. George and Lennie are seasonal, itinerant ranchhands. They keep losing jobs because Lennie is retarded (no Specially Abled in the thirties). Now they have the chance to put up a stake and get their own little piece of land. They’re going up to a ranch up near Soledad, after losing a job at a ranch in Weed. Lennie ain’t that smart, but he’s a big, strong man.

“That ranch we’re goin’ to is right down there about a quarter mile. We’re gonna go in an’ see the boss. Now, look--I’ll give him the work tickets, but you ain’t gonna say a word. You jus’ stand there and don’t say nothing. If he finds out what a crazy bastard you are, we won’t get no job, but if he sees ya work before he hears ya talk, we’re set. Ya got that?”

George and Lennie stick together, and part of what the book is about is, why does George stick with Lennie? Because he could certainly do a lot better without him, as he occasionally explodes and tells the big man, after taking away the broken, dead mouse that Lennie has been petting, and explaining to him not to do what he did in Weed that got them kicked out:

“There’s enough beans for four men,” George said.

Lennie watched him from over the fire. He said patiently, “I like ‘em with ketchup.”

“Well, we ain’t got any,” George exploded. “Whatever we ain’t got, that’s what you want. God a’mighty, if I was alone I could live so easy. I could go get a job an’ work an’ no trouble. No mess at all, and when the end of the month come I could take my fifty bucks and go into town and get whatever I want.”

Cathouse, hotel, food, whisky, card game, whatever he damn wanted, but instead Lennie keeps losing them jobs.

Not that he’d necessarily do all that stuff. He’s got a dream of owning his own land, “living off the fat of the land,” a dream which Lennie shares, mostly because when they get their own land George is going to get some rabbits for Lennie to raise. “I wouldn’t never forget to feed them,” he says.

And why does Lennie stay with George? He puts up with a lot of crap from his friend. He threatens to leave, but he never does, and we know he never will. George and Lennie have known each other for a long time, and have been traveling together probably since they left home. Where other farmworkers work alone and blow their money on the weekends,

“With us it ain’t like that. We got a future. We got somebody to talk to that gives a damn about us. We don’t have to sit in no bar room blowin’ in our jack jus’ because we got no place else to go. If them other guys gets in jail they can rot for all anybody gives a damn. But not us.”

Lennie broke in. “But not us! And why? Because... because I got you to look after me, and you got me to look after you, and that’s why.”

You’ve seen take-offs on George and Lennie in cartoons; just about every smart guy/dumb guy pairing by any American author since Steinbeck takes from “Of Mice and Men”, and for good reason. This is a powerful book that will not leave you when you’re done. It is exquisitely written, exquisite not in the sense of flowery prose, but that every piece fits perfectly, every word rings true.

If you went to a United States high school, you’ve probably already read this, but you should read it again. You can purchase it separately, or in the collection “The Short Novels of John Steinbeck”, which contains all of my favorite Steinbeck stories, including “Of Mice and Men”.

Of Mice and Men

John Steinbeck

Recommendation: Purchase

If you enjoyed Of Mice and Men…

For more about John Steinbeck, you might also be interested in Cannery Row and Sweet Thursday, Tortilla Flat, and Satire isn’t comedy.