THE SURVIVAL GAME IN HARSH CONDITIONS: OF MICE AND MEN, BY JOHN STEINBECK
To A Mouse (Robert Burns, 1759-96)
Wee, sleeket, cowrin, tim'rous beastie,...
... But, Mousie, thou art no thy lane
In proving foresight may be vain:
The best laid schemes o' mice an' men
Gang aft agley,
An' lea'e us nought but grief an' pain
For promis'd joy.
Still thou art blest, compar'd wi' me!
The present only toucheth thee:
But, och! I backward cast my e'e
On prospects drear!
An' forward, tho' I canna see,
I guess an' fear!
The title of Steinbeck’s novel, taken from the poem written by Robert Burns in 1785, leads us directly to what happens to the two main characters of the novel: no matter how hard they try their plans to reach a successful ending, they always fail to become true. Clinging to each other in their loneliness and alienation, George and his simple-minded friend Lennie dream, as drifters will, of a place to call their own. But after they come to work on a ranch in the Salinas Valley their hopes, like "the best laid schemes o' mice an' men," begin to go awry.
Of Mice and Men is set in the farmland of the Salinas valley, where John Steinbeck was born. Steinbeck's father owned land in the area, and as a young man Steinbeck had worked helping in the farm. The ranch in the story is near Soledad, which is south-east of Salinas on the Salinas river.
Two migrant workers, George and Lennie, lead their way to a California farm where they have to start a new work. Lennie has a mild mental disability and is totally dependent on his friend for protection and guidance. He loves petting soft things, and usually carries small animals such as mice or rats. But he is not aware of his own strength and the animals inevitably end up dead in his hands. The two men dream of buying their own piece of land and living on it, but before they can fulfil their dream they have to gather enough money working.