Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

Chapter 1 Summary (pages 1-16)

Steinbeck opens the novel with a description of the setting: the lush, green landscape of the Salinas River Valley in California. Rabbits frolic along the riverside and mountains rise from the landscape in the distance. Two men emerge from the brush: George Milton—a small, dark, and strong-featured man—and his polar opposite—Lennie Smalls, whose large, shapeless, physique indicates that he’s clumsy, yet strong. Lennie repeats himself often and has difficulty remembering George’s repeated instructions—all clues that Lennie has a below-average IQ and relies on George’s care for survival. Lennie enjoys carrying around small mice and petting them, despite George’s admonishments since Lennie has inadvertently killed all of the pet mice he previously cared for.

George repeatedly comments on how much better his life would be if he did not have to care for Lennie. He reveals that the two men recently had been run out of a town named Weed, where they’d been employed, and now they are seeking work at a new ranch they can see off in the distance. George instructs Lennie that when inquiring about work tomorrow, Lennie must keep quiet. Seeming to fear a repeat of the situation that occurred in Weed, George tells Lennie that if any trouble should arise, they should meet back in this spot near the river and Lennie should hide in the brush until George arrives. As the two men settle in for the night, George and Lennie share in the telling of a familiar tale: one day they will have saved up enough money to buy their own ranch where they can “live offa the fatta the lan’” and where Lennie can tend the rabbits.