Of Mice and Men: A story for contemporary longings

Adrian de León
6 min readFeb 1, 2023
Photo by Lucas Gallone on Unsplash

John Steinbeck’s novel which I read for the first time aged 30, hit me like a freight-train of emotion. From the very first pages, as we are introduced to George and Lennie, it is quickly apparent that their friendship is underpinned by feelings of protection and care, punctuated by George’s longing for a different life. Instantly, I knew this was going to be a great read. By the end of the book and as the story unfolded to a predictable ending, my soul poured out of my eyes through tears.

In just a few pages, this story of two men, drawn together by socio-economic necessity and bound together by a human ideal of camaraderie like brother in arms, brilliantly transposes the reader in a moment in time. Of Mice and Men is the antithesis, the perfect complimentary novel to The Great Gatsby. Both novels are set in the first part of the 20th century, but touch upon two drastically distinct experiences of living through it. If Fitzgerald’s novel is about the trappings and excess of unfathomable wealth, Steinbeck’s depiction of rural America is concerned with the individuals who can only dream of such wealth, and so they do. George and Lennie, involuntary nomads, scour the backlands of coastal California in search of enough work to save enough money for a small plot of land. Their peculiar friendship, fraught with frustration, is held together by this dream, this human ideal: to own and work your own piece of land and to free oneself from the shackles of the wealthy.

The book is short, concise, and yet, each word seems perfectly selected to convey a certain emotion or set a particular setting. As a modern reader of the 21st century whose reality is punctuated by late-capitalism’s assault on nature, Of Mice and Men drew me in as Steinbeck’s meticulously describes the ecosystem of George and Lennie’s world. They live in a world of open planes, sporadic human interaction, and one in which the animals interact with its environment and with one another in perfect harmony. The stillness and wholeness of the environment jars with the turmoil and conflict that seems inherent with Lennie’s place in the world. He is a tall giant, with big great hands and an even bigger heart. He displays a particular affection for the smaller things, carrying a mouse that he enjoys petting. Unfortunately, Lennie doesn’t know — nor understand — his…