Friendship in Of Mice and Men

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  • 0:03 Friends in Need:…
  • 0:52 The Power of Need
  • 2:53 Friends: Yesterday,…
  • 4:01 Power to the People
  • 4:51 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Terri Beth Miller

Terri Beth has taught college writing and literature courses since 2005 and has a PhD in literature.

Friendship is one of the main themes in John Steinbeck's 1937 masterpiece, 'Of Mice and Men.' Steinbeck suggests that the fracturing of families during the Depression era made friendship essential.

Friends in Need: George and Lennie

Like much of his work, John Steinbeck's 1937 masterpiece, Of Mice and Men, explores the day-to-day lives of people who had lost everything in Depression-era America - their homes, their families, and any sense of security or hope in the American Dream.

George Milton and Lennie Small are the two main characters in the novel, who are California farm workers, traveling from ranch to ranch to find work. But what makes them unique is that they travel together. Unlike the rest of the workers, George and Lennie are not alone; they have each other. Through their relationship, Steinbeck explores the incredible power of friendship and suggests that the greatest threat posed by a crisis like the Great Depression is its capacity to tear people apart.

The Power of Need

Steinbeck witnessed the poverty and suffering of the Depression firsthand. He visited the camps of the poor and displaced. He saw the desperation and the fear. Even greater than the toll the economic collapse took on the body, Steinbeck realized, was the toll it took on the spirit.

The Great Depression took away Americans' connection to other human beings. Families were destroyed. Husbands left to find work or simply because they could not endure to watch their family slowly starve. Mothers delivered the children they could no longer feed into the care of relatives or charities. Siblings found themselves taken from their brothers and sisters because their new home might sustain one more mouth to feed but not two or three.

But George and Lennie can't fracture - they need each other. Lennie is incredibly powerful physically but has the mind of a very young child. George knows that Lennie simply would not survive without him. Lennie might end up in an institution, jail, or worse.

And, George needs to be needed. His connection to Lennie's family, and specifically to Lennie's Aunt Clara, who cared for Lennie before she died, is unclear. George feels responsible for Lennie. And Lennie idolizes George. He imitates George's every gesture. He looks to George for everything, from how he should behave to what he should say.

George is a smart man with incredible potential, but life has not been kind to him. He has no education, no money, and no home. He is angry and frustrated by all he might have been. George finds his best self in Lennie's eyes.

In his role as Lennie's caretaker, George achieves the one worthy thing his circumstances allow. Here, Steinbeck suggests that friendship can bring us to our highest potential, that what matters most is not who we are alone, but who and how we can be to others.

Friends: Yesterday, Today, and Forever

The power of connection is exactly what Lennie and George's friendship demonstrates. Time and again, George and Lennie celebrate their friendship: '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.' George and Lennie's friendship gives them a sense a purpose and belonging. It grounds them in the present while moving them forward into a future. They dream of buying their own home and a plot of land to farm.

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