What is the Setting for Of Mice and Men?

Instructor: Kaitlin Oglesby

Kaitlin has a BA in political science and experience teaching.

John Steinbeck's Depression era novel, Of Mice and Men, is about two migrant workers during the 1930s. Learn about this era and what caused so many workers to move west.

The Great Depression and the Dust Bowl

While many people make a great number of comparisons between the Great Recession that started in 2008 and the Great Depression of the 1930s, there is one very important difference. During the 1930s, poor land management and dry weather combined to turn much of the Great Plains into a vast wasteland. Topsoil was literally blown away in large parts of Texas and Oklahoma and stretching into Kansas, Colorado and New Mexico, causing what became known as the Dust Bowl, and the economy of these heavily agricultural states collapsed. Across the country, people looked for economic opportunities in agriculture, and only one such place seemed to exist - California. It is into this society that Steinbeck inserted his story, Of Mice and Men.

John Steinbeck
John Steinbeck

Land of Opportunity

California was practically the only agricultural area that had not suffered from the effects of the Dust Bowl. Here, citrus and vegetable crops were rumored to grow in abundance. Many people, such as those who had seen the effects of the Dust Bowl first hand, saw that as an opportunity to work bringing in the harvest of a nation. Combined with the relative wealth of Hollywood, the whole state had the allure of wealth and opportunity, and people flocked to California. Families and single men made the journey west, just as the pioneers had done a century earlier, lured by the promise of a better life.

Once they got there, however, they saw that the reality was actually very different. The Great Depression had hit California as well, although not as hard as it had affected the rest of the country. Still, there was little work for the large masses of people descending upon the state, and they were forced to wander from town to town; the towns mentioned in Of Mice and Men stretch across the whole of the state. Most of the action in Of Mice and Men takes place on a ranch in Northern California. In fact, only a handful of places on the ranch are actually used as settings. In fact, most of the action takes place in a bunkhouse on the ranch, a barn, a ranch worker's room, and a small patch of woods near the ranch.

Top soil was literally blown away during the Dust Bowl era
Farmer during the Dust Bowl

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