Main Characters in Of Mice and Men

Instructor: Sharon Linde

Sharon has a Masters of Science in Mathematics

The iconic novel Of Mice and Men is made complete by its engaging, enduring characters. Who are they, and what makes them so captivating? This lesson will detail the main characters of the story and give you a glimpse into their legendary status.

The Great American Novel

Reading the Steinbeck novel Of Mice and Men is almost a rite of passage. Many of us pick up the book because of a class requirement, but most of us wind up falling in love with it. Whether you develop a crush on this novel or not you'll need to get to know the characters and their personalities. You will need to understand their actions and the undertones in the storyline. Before we get to that, though, let's give you a bit of background about the story and author.

John Steinbeck and Of Mice and Men

Of Mice and Men (OMAM) is a novella, or short novel, written by John Steinbeck and published in 1937. Steinbeck tells the story of two migrant workers, or people who move from place to place for work, George and Lennie. The book was written during the Great Depression, a time when jobs, money, and security were scarce for most Americans. Steinbeck based the characters and their experiences partly his own struggles with poverty.

Author John Steinbeck

Steinbeck peppers this novella with symbolism, which is the use of objects, characters, or actions in such a way as to suggest a deeper meaning. authors use symbolism to deliver messages about emotions or important concepts or themes in the story. Steinbeck is best known for his ability to write simple, descriptive stories that tackle themes like injustices, inequality, survival, and relationships. These ideas appealed (and still do) to readers as the characters and their struggles are relatable. Who hasn't felt oppressed or taken advantage of? Or, in the case of OMAM, who hasn't felt the strong pull of taking care of a good friend in need, even if it means sacrifice?

Characters in Of Mice and Men

Now that you understand a bit about the context of the novel and its storyline, let's get right to lining up these characters.

George Milton. Most stories have at least one protagonist, the character who is the 'good guy' or story lead. In OMAM that's George. He's smart, witty, and kind. He dreams of having land of his own but is realistic about the amount of work he'll need to do to make that happen. In the story George takes care of Lennie, who cannot care for himself. Ultimately this relationship means that George must make a hard decision about what that responsibility really means.

Lennie Small. Steinbeck ironically names Lennie 'Small' when he and his character are anything but. Lennie is a large man with a mental disability. He has a gregarious and open personality, and though Lennie does not fully realize it, this means he must depend on George to protect him from people who would do him harm.

An important thing to remember about Lennie is he is a strong man who isn't aware of his own strength sometimes. We see this when he tries to pet small farm animals (which he adores) but accidentally harms them. And maybe that's the seed of Lennie's character -- despite his size and strength, he is essential loving and childlike. Not every character in the novel understands this.

Lennie dreams with George about owning a farm of his own, though his limited ability to truly understand what this means can often mean trouble.

Candy. How'd you like to be a man called 'Candy'? This older man who works as a ranch hand has, ironically (again) lost his hand in an accident years ago. He worries his handicap will get him fired and wants to join George and Lennie in their farm-land dream. Candy is able to offer money from his savings; he also has an old, sick and feeble dog that Steinbeck uses as a foreshadowing tool, or symbol of an event to come later in the story.

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