George and Lennie are two migrant workers trying to stay employed and out of trouble. Their dream of having their own farm may be over when Lennie makes a terrible mistake.
Below are some reading passages that we have hand picked to supplement this book. Be sure to read the passage summaries and our suggestions for instructional use.
In this excerpt from John Steinbeck's article The Harvest Gypsies, Steinbeck discusses the experiences of migrant workers in America, specifically California.
Introduce this text before students read the novella, in order to provide them with background information. In “Excerpt from The Harvest Gypsies”, Steinbeck details the lives of migrant workers and their struggles finding work in his unpretentious, but eloquently descriptive prose. Ask students to use the article to describe the characteristics of Californian migrant work, as well as characteristics of Steinbeck’s writing. As students read the novel, have them identify where these characteristics appear in the novella.
In Robert Burns' poem "To a Mouse," a speaker encounters a mouse as they are plowing a field.
Introduce this poem to students after they have read Section 1, in order to help them understand the literary allusion from the novella’s title, as well as its thematic connection to the lines “The best laid schemes of mice and men / Go often askew,” in Burns’ poem. Ask students to compare Lennie to the mouse in Burns’ poem and George to the poem’s speaker. How does Lennie resemble an unprotected mouse in winter? How does George's tone compare to the speaker's tone?
In the philosophical text "'Three Types of Friendship' — Excerpt from The Nicomachean Ethics," Aristotle describes three types of friendship and their differences.
Have students read this text after reading Section 2, when Slim asks about George and Lennie’s relationship. George and Lennie aren’t really related as previously indicated, but George divulges that they travel together and help each other out, because he has the brains and Lennie has the brawn. Ask students to identify which of Aristotle’s three kinds of friendships describes the relationship that George and Lennie have? How much does Lennie and George’s relationship rely on utility to be successful as migrant laborers?
Ovid (43 BCE – 17/18 CE), or Publius Ovidius Naso, was a Roman poet best known for the Metamorphoses, which now remains an important source of classical mythology. In this classic myth, Daedalus attempts to escape imprisonment on the island of Crete by crafting a pair of wax wings for himself and his son, Icarus.
Have students read this text after completing Section 3, in order to examine the foreshadowing that is present in both the myth and this section of the novella. Ask students to examine the events that serve as foreshadowing in the myth, and to identify moments of foreshadowing in the novella, such as the killing of Candy’s dog and the warnings that Lennie is given about Curley’s wife. What do students think these moments might be hinting at?
In "Advice to the 'Newly Married Lady'" (1808), a doctor from the 19th century advises new wives to defer to their husbands.
Introduce students to this text after reading Section 4, in order to forge a thematic connection between the role of women and their isolation — as seen through Curley’s wife in the novella. The essay offers information on how a woman should be happy by making her husband happy, stifling her own desires, and acting obedient. Have students discuss the motivations for this advice and the consequences, particularly in regards to feelings of loneliness and inferiority. What does Curley prescribe as his wife’s role? Ask students: can the advice to the newly married lady also be applied, at the time of the novella, to people of color, such as Crooks? What is the cause of Crooks’ and Curley’s wife’s loneliness? What happens as a result?
William Stafford's poem "Burning a Book" considers the act of book burning in a new light, emphasizing the greater importance of combating ignorance and sharing ideas.
Have students read this poem after completing the novella, in order to generate a discussion on the past attempts to ban Of Mice and Men. Past campaigns to ban the book have charged that the text is racist, profane, vulgar, and violent. Reflecting back on the entire novella, ask students to debate the merits of banning or not banning the book. Ask them to identify the message of Stafford's poem in order to determine what his position on banning "Of Mice and Men" might be. Do students believe Steinbeck offers knowledge in Of Mice and Men that discourages banning?