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.
10th Grade Essay 1260L
Excerpt from The Harvest Gypsies
Passage Summary: In this excerpt from John Steinbeck’s article The Harvest Gypsies, Steinbeck discusses the experiences of migrant workers in America, specifically California.
When and How to Pair: 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.
9th Grade Poem
To a Mouse
Passage Summary: In Robert Burns’ poem “To a Mouse,” a speaker encounters a mouse as he is plowing a field.
When and How to Pair: 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?
11th Grade Philosophy 1010L
“Three Types of Friendship” — Excerpt from The Nicomachean Ethics
Passage Summary: In the philosophical text “‘Three Types of Friendship’ — Excerpt from The Nicomachean Ethics,” Aristotle describes three types of friendship and their differences.
When and How to Pair: 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?
11th Grade Myth 1190L
The Myth of Daedalus and Icarus
Passage Summary: 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.
When and How to Pair: 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?
10th Grade Essay 1240L
Advice to the Newly Married Lady
Passage Summary: In “Advice to the ‘Newly Married Lady’” (1808), a doctor from the 19th century advises new wives to defer to their husbands.
When and How to Pair: 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?
9th Grade Poem
Burning a Book
Passage Summary: 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.
When and How to Pair: 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?
10th Grade Informational Text 1190L
Men and Women Use Different Scales to Weigh Moral Dilemmas
Passage Summary: When researchers analyzed the responses of thousands of men and women to various moral dilemmas, they found that decision-making methods often vary by gender.
When and How to Pair: Have students read this text after completing the novella, in order to provide sociological insight into the moral decision George makes to kill Lennie. According to Rutsch’s article, some people rely on weighing possible outcomes or consequences to make a decision while others focus heavily on ideas of what is right and wrong. Some evaluate context on their choice, while others believe a decision is not situational. Ask students to analyze the findings of the study and then, focusing on the costs and benefits of moral decisions as indicated in the article, debate the morality of George’s decision to kill Lennie.