Non Fiction Essay Ideas For Of Mice

Themes in John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men Essay

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John Steinbeck, an American novelist, is well-known for his familiar themes of depression and loneliness. He uses these themes throughout a majority of his novels. These themes come from his childhood and growing up during the stock market crash. A reader can see his depiction of his childhood era. In Of Mice and Men, Steinbeck shows the prominent themes of loneliness, the need for relationships, and the loss of dreams in the 1930s through the novels’ character.
Lennie Small, a mentally impaired man, is first introduced to us traveling with George. George, however, is not related to Lennie. Lennie travels with George because no one else understands him like he does. Lennie says, “Because…because I got you to look after me, and you got me…show more content…

John Steinbeck, an American novelist, is well-known for his familiar themes of depression and loneliness. He uses these themes throughout a majority of his novels. These themes come from his childhood and growing up during the stock market crash. A reader can see his depiction of his childhood era. In Of Mice and Men, Steinbeck shows the prominent themes of loneliness, the need for relationships, and the loss of dreams in the 1930s through the novels’ character.
Lennie Small, a mentally impaired man, is first introduced to us traveling with George. George, however, is not related to Lennie. Lennie travels with George because no one else understands him like he does. Lennie says, “Because…because I got you to look after me, and you got me to look after you…” (Steinbeck 14). Lennie believes if George ever left him that he could live in a cave by himself and not bother anyone again (Steinbeck 12). Lennie realizes he would be alone without George, but he never has known anyone else to depend on but George, and from that, they have a bond, a friendship. This shows Lennie’s need for his relationship with George.
A friendship is not all they have together, Lennie and George have dreams. Lennie and George have worked up the idea of owning their own piece of land together. Lennie wants to tend the rabbits (Steinbeck 11) and George just wants to be his own boss (Steinbeck 14). The only problem with their dream is that it is unrealistic. They cannot buy land to tend and just go days

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As John Steinbeck’s novel “The Grapes of Wrath” prepares to celebrate its 75th birthday, its oft-taught brother, “Of Mice and Men,” is in previews on Broadway.

The powerful novella, which Steinbeck saw as “a kind of playable novel, written in novel form but so scened and set that it can be played as it stands,” explores themes of friendship, power, dreams, and the responsibility we have to look out for one another in a sometimes unkind world.

The characters at the heart of the story, George and Lennie, work against all odds to earn enough money to build their dream – to own a place of their own, with alfalfa and rabbits. Their friendship sets them apart from the other men in the world of the book and fuels their aspirations, until the book’s violent conclusion.

For this Text to Text, we aim to have students explore the role of true friendship in a world defined by transactional relationships. We pair the opening exchanges between George and Lennie in John Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men” with a piece from The Times’s philosophy blog, The Stone, on “Friendship in an Age of Economics.”


In “Of Mice and Men,” when George and Lennie meet Slim, he asks them about their relationship. This exchange follows:

“You guys travel around together?” His tone was friendly. It invited confidence without demanding it.

“Sure,” said George. “We kinda look after each other.” He indicated Lennie with his thumb. “He ain’t bright. Hell of a good worker, though. Hell of a nice fella, but he ain’t bright. I’ve knew him for a long time.”

Slim looked through George and beyond him. “Ain’t many guys travel around together,” he mused. “I don’t know why. Maybe ever’body in the whole damn world is scared of each other.”

“It’s a lot nicer to go around with a guy you know,” said George.

Here, Mr. Steinbeck, a nobel-prize winning author, gets at the significance of true friendship in a harsh world. The theme of friendship in the story plays out, not only between George and Lennie, but also between Candy, the old swamper, and his dog, as well as through the isolation of characters like Crooks, who is black, and Curley’s wife, who is female and not significant enough in the world of the book to even warrant her own name. In chapter 5, these characters are brought together and — briefly — can imagine a brighter future. Friendship is not only “nicer,” it’s vital.

Our world is not the same as the 1930s ranch Steinbeck imagines, but we are often similarly isolated — by geography, difference, or even technology. What does friendship look like now? Why is it important?

Key Question: What is “true friendship” and how does our world today challenge it?

Activity Sheets:

As students read and discuss, they might take notes using one or more of the three graphic organizers (PDFs) we have created for our Text to Text feature:

Text 1: Excerpt from “Friendship in an Age of Economics” by Todd May, July 4, 2010:

…Aristotle thought that there were three types of friendship: those of pleasure, those of usefulness, and true friendship. In friendships of pleasure, “it is not for their character that men love ready-witted people, but because they find them pleasant.” In the latter, “those who love each other for their utility do not love each other for themselves but in virtue of some good which they get from each other.” For him, the first is characteristic of the young, who are focused on momentary enjoyment, while the second is often the province of the old, who need assistance to cope with their frailty. What the rise of recent public rhetoric and practice has accomplished is to cast the first two in economic terms while forgetting about the third.

In our lives, however, few of us have entirely forgotten about the third — true friendship. We may not define it as Aristotle did — friendship among the already virtuous — but we live it in our own way nonetheless. Our close friendships stand as a challenge to the tenor of our times.

Conversely, our times challenge those relationships. This is why we must reflect on friendship; so that it doesn’t slip away from us under the pressure of a dominant economic discourse. We are all, and always, creatures of our time. In the case of friendship, we must push back against that time if we are to sustain what, for many of us, are among the most important elements of our lives. It is those elements that allow us to sit by the bedside of a friend: not because we know it is worth it, but because the question of worth does not even arise.

There is much that might be said about friendships. They allow us to see ourselves from the perspective of another. They open up new interests or deepen current ones. They offer us support during difficult periods in our lives. The aspect of friendship that I would like to focus on is its non-economic character. Although we benefit from our close friendships, these friendships are not a matter of calculable gain and loss. While we draw pleasure from them, they are not a matter solely of consuming pleasure. And while the time we spend with our friends and the favors we do for them are often reciprocated in an informal way, we do not spend that time or offer those favors in view of the reciprocation that might ensue.

Friendships follow a rhythm that is distinct from that of either consumer or entrepreneurial relationships. This is at once their deepest and most fragile characteristic. Consumer pleasures are transient. They engulf us for a short period and then they fade, like a drug. That is why they often need to be renewed periodically. Entrepreneurship, when successful, leads to the victory of personal gain. We cultivate a colleague in the field or a contact outside of it in the hope that it will advance our career or enhance our status. When it does, we feel a sense of personal success. In both cases, there is the enjoyment of what comes to us through the medium of other human beings.

Friendships worthy of the name are different. Their rhythm lies not in what they bring to us, but rather in what we immerse ourselves in. To be a friend is to step into the stream of another’s life. It is, while not neglecting my own life, to take pleasure in another’s pleasure, and to share their pain as partly my own. The borders of my life, while not entirely erased, become less clear than they might be. Rather than the rhythm of pleasure followed by emptiness, or that of investment and then profit, friendships follow a rhythm that is at once subtler and more persistent. This rhythm is subtler because it often (although not always) lacks the mark of a consumed pleasure or a successful investment. But even so, it remains there, part of the ground of our lives that lies both within us and without.

…We might say of friendships that they are a matter not of diversion or of return but of meaning. They render us vulnerable, and in doing so they add dimensions of significance to our lives that can only arise from being, in each case, friends with this or that particular individual, a party to this or that particular life.

It is precisely this non-economic character that is threatened in a society in which each of us is thrown upon his or her resources and offered only the bywords of ownership, shopping, competition, and growth. It is threatened when we are encouraged to look upon those around us as the stuff of our current enjoyment or our future advantage. It is threatened when we are led to believe that friendships without a recognizable gain are, in the economic sense, irrational. Friendships are not without why, perhaps, but they are certainly without that particular why.

Text 2: Excerpt from the opening section of “Of Mice and Men” by John Steinbeck:

“If you don’ want me I can go off in the hills an’ find a cave. I can go away any time.”

“No — look! I was jus’ foolin’, Lennie. ‘Cause I want you to stay with me. Trouble with mice is you always kill ’em.” He paused. “Tell you what I’ll do, Lennie. First chance I get I’ll give you a pup. Maybe you wouldn’t kill it. That’d be better than mice. And you could pet it harder.”

Lennie avoided the bait. He had sensed his advantage. “If you don’t want me, you only jus’ got to say so, and I’ll go off in those hills right there — right up in those hills and live by myself. An’ I won’t get no mice stole from me.”

George said, “I want you to stay with me, Lennie. Jesus Christ, somebody’d shoot you for a coyote if you was by yourself. No, you stay with me. Your Aunt Clara wouldn’t like you running off by yourself, even if she is dead.”

Lennie spoke craftily, “Tell me — like you done before.”

“Tell you what?”

“About the rabbits.”

George snapped, “You ain’t gonna put nothing over on me.”

Lennie pleaded, “Come on, George. Tell me. Please, George. Like you done before.”

“You get a kick outa that, don’t you? Awright, I’ll tell you, and then we’ll eat our supper….”

George’s voice became deeper. He repeated his words rhythmically as though he had said them many times before. “Guys like us, that work on ranches, are the loneliest guys in the world. They got no fambly. They don’t belong no place. They come to a ranch an’ work up a stake and then they go into town and blow their stake, and the first thing you know they’re poundin’ their tail on some other ranch. They ain’t got nothing to look ahead to.”

Lennie was delighted. “That’s it — that’s it. Now tell how it is with us.”

George went on. “With us it ain’t like that. 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. If them other guys gets in jail they can rot for all anybody gives a damn. But not us.”

Lennie broke in. “But not us! An’ why? Because… because I got you to look after me, and you got me to look after you, and that’s why.” He laughed delightedly. “Go on now, George!”

For Writing or Discussion:

  1. How would you describe the relationship between George and Lennie in this excerpt?
  2. Which of Aristotle’s three kinds of friendships would you say describes theirs? Why?
  3. How does the time we live in threaten the third, and most precious, kind of friendship, according to Mr. May? Why is it important to cultivate such friendships now?
  4. Discuss this statement in relation to George and Lennie: “They render us vulnerable, and in doing so they add dimensions of significance to our lives that can only arise from being, in each case, friends with this or that particular individual, a party to this or that particular life.” How does their friendship render each vulnerable? How does it add significance (good or bad) to each of their lives?
  5. On the ranch in Steinbeck’s novella, which could be described as “a world often ruled by the dollar and what it can buy,” how exactly does “friendship, like love, opens other vistas”? What is the relationship between friendship and dreams?

Going Further:

Classroom to Classroom Connections:

How can a conversation about a novel between students at different schools open new perspectives?

In a 2012 article, “Split by Race and Wealth, but Discovering Similarities as They Study Steinbeck,” Winnie Hu writes:

When an eighth-grade class at Roosevelt Intermediate School tackled Chapter 4 of John Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men” one morning last week, the conversation focused on the loneliness of a minor white character known as Curley’s wife.

The next day at the same time, five miles away at the Cedarbrook K-8 Center in Plainfield, another eighth-grade class opened to the same chapter of the same book but paid scant attention to Curley’s wife, spending most of an hour on the sole black character, Crooks.

But these two sets of students are engaged in an unusual literary experiment, studying the book in a collaboration intended to provide lessons between the lines of Steinbeck’s prose.

In a state stratified to a large extent by race and wealth, the mostly white students in tony Westfield say that they live in a privileged “bubble,” while the Cedarbrook students in Plainfield are nearly all black and Hispanic, and two-thirds of them are poor enough to qualify for free or reduced lunches. On Tuesday, the day after Martin Luther King’s Birthday, 130 of the eighth graders who have been reading Steinbeck side by side, trading questions via Wikispaces, Skype and visits to each others’ schools, will gather for the final chapter in a project that sought to teach them as much about themselves as about Lennie and George.

“Of Mice and Men” is one of the most taught books in American high schools. How could your school reach out to a school with a different population of students to try an experiment like this?

Friendship in Your Life:

In a world in which “friending” and “unfriending” have become verbs, use Aristotle as a lens through which to think deeply about your own friendships. Which are “for pleasure”? Which for “usefulness”? Who do you consider to be your true friends? How did they come to be your true friends? Why are they important in your life? How does technology affect these relationships?

After reflecting upon the nature of friendship in your own life, write a personal essay in the style of Mr. May in which you explore your friendships. Would you add any categories? What have these relationships taught you about the nature of friendship?

George and Lennie: Early “Bromance”?

The theme of friendship in “Of Mice and Men” is echoed in what Times reporter Sarah Lyall calls the “Broadway bromance” between James Franco and Chris O’Dowd, who are preparing to take the leads in the current incarnation of the play.

A quick search of the Times reveals that the term “bromance”, which entered the dictionary alongside “fist-bump” in 2011, has been applied to everyone from President Obama and Chris Christie to Dennis Rodman and Kim Jong Un. American literature is also full of bromances — Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald, Jack Kerouac and Neal Cassady, and Emerson and Thoreau, to name three. Countless current films take their inspiration from the idea. And the word has even inspired a reality television show.

But is a friendship between men different enough from other kinds of friendship to warrant its own buzz word? And why is this theme omnipresent in our culture now? How are male friendships different from those between girls and women? Or between people of different genders? (Can boys and girls be “just friends”?) Why are same-sex friendships important? To discuss these questions, read this article about boys’ friendships, and answer our related Student Opinion question, Do Boys Have Less Intense Friendships Than Girls?. Begin your discussion by having all students reflect on past friendships and their meanings in writing, perhaps revising their writing with any new insights afterward.

Recognizing Resilience:

“Of Mice and Men” is a story of resilience in the face of sometimes heart-wrenching challenges. Friendship is part of what motivates George and Lennie to persevere. The folks at the Steinbeck Center in Salinas, Calif., are celebrating the 75th birthday of “The Grapes of Wrath” by asking people to submit their own stories of resilience. What does it mean to be resilient? Where does resiliency come from? How does George and Lennie’s friendship aid their resiliency?

Though you are not living through the same circumstances as Steinbeck’s characters, teenage life is full of stressors like the increasingly intensecollege application process, which can lead to depression and suicide.

What helps you when difficulties strike? How can you cultivate resilience in your life? (Teachers, you might read this to see how to promote resilience in your students.)

“Of Mice and Men” in the News:

As George points out to Slim, Lennie is not too bright, but he’s a “nice fella”. The character of Lennie is based on a real man with whom John Steinbeck worked alongside on a ranch, and who did, in fact, kill someone — a ranch foreman, not a woman. That man was placed in a mental hospital.

In 2012, Marvin Wilson, a “mentally retarded man with an I.Q. of 61,” was executed in Texas for a fatal shooting, after appeals were denied by the Supreme Court. In covering the execution, Robert Mackey referred to a 2004 ruling that established precedent for the execution. During it, a state court judge invoked “Of Mice and Men,” and Lennie specifically, in arguing that it would be impossible to define the point at which a mentally retarded person should not face execution for a crime.

Thomas Steinbeck, the author’s son, released a statement before the execution, condemning the act and saying, “Prior to reading about Mr. Wilson’s case, I had no idea that the great state of Texas would use a fictional character that my father created to make a point about human loyalty and dedication, i.e., Lennie Small from ‘Of Mice and Men,’ as a benchmark to identify whether defendants with intellectual disability should live or die.”

How do the issues in this case echo those in the novella? Besides the obvious parallels, consider the roles of race and human responsibility. Do you think people with mental handicaps should face the death penalty? How do judges decide who should and who shouldn’t? Is what George does in the end, acting as jury, judge, and executioner, right?

Related Resources:


This resource may be used to address the academic standards listed below.

Common Core E.L.A. Anchor Standards
  • 1 Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.

  • 2 Determine central ideas or themes of a text and analyze their development; summarize the key supporting details and ideas.

  • 4 Interpret words and phrases as they are used in a text, including determining technical, connotative, and figurative meanings, and analyze how specific word choices shape meaning or tone.

  • 6 Assess how point of view or purpose shapes the content and style of a text.

  • 8 Delineate and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, including the validity of the reasoning as well as the relevance and sufficiency of the evidence.

  • 9 Analyze how two or more texts address similar themes or topics in order to build knowledge or to compare the approaches the authors take.

  • 10 Read and comprehend complex literary and informational texts independently and proficiently.

Correction: April 10, 2014
An earlier edition of this post misstated the name of Jack Kerouac's friend and model for the character Dean Moriarty in "On the Road." He was Neal Cassady, not Dean Cassidy.

Text to Text

Teaching ideas based on New York Times content.

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