John Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men” tells of complementary yet contentious partners George and Lennie and their quest to acquire a place of their own so they can “live off the fatta the lan’.”
Here are five of my favorite excerpts from the novella. Because of Steinbeck’s prioritization on storytelling, they aren’t revelatory by themselves and might come off as even a bit mundane. But I hope you enjoy nonetheless.
1.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 family. They don’t belong no place. They come to a ranch an’ work up a stake and then they go inta town and blow their stake, and the first thing you know they’re poundin’ their tail on some ranch. They ain’t got nothing to look ahead to.”
2. “She’s purty,” said Lennie defensively.
“Yeah, and she’s sure hidin’ it. Curley got his work ahead of him. Bet she’d clear out for twenty bucks.”
Lennie still stared at the doorway where she had been. “Gosh, she was purty.” He smiled admiringly. George looked quickly down at him and then he took him by an ear and shook him.
“Listen to me, you crazy bastard,” he said fiercely. “Don’t you even take a look at that bitch. I don’t care what she says and what she does. I seen ‘em poison before, but I never seen no piece of jail bait worse than her. You leave her be.”
3.A tall man stood in the doorway. He held a crushed Stetson hat under his arm while he combed his long, black, damp hair straight back. Like the others he wore blue jeans and a short denim jacket. When he had finished combing his hair he moved into the room, and he moved with a majesty only achieved by royalty and master craftsmen. He was a jerkline skinner, the prince of the ranch, capable of driving ten, sixteen, even twenty mules with a single line to the leaders. He was capable of killing a fly on the wheeler’s butt with a bull whip without touching the mule. There was a gravity in his manner and a quiet so profound that all talk stopped when he spoke. His authority was so great that his word was taken on any subject, be it politics or love. This was Slim, the jerkline skinner.
4.A change came over old Candy. He stood up suddenly and knocked his nail keg over backward. “I had enough,” he said angrily. “You ain’t wanted here. We told you you ain’t. An’ I tell ya, you got floozy idears about what us guys amounts to. You ain’t got sense enough in that chicken head to even see that we ain’t stiffs. S’pose you get us canned. S’pose you do. You think we’ll hit the highway an’ look for another lousy two-bit job like this. You don’t know that we got our own ranch to go to, an’ our own house. We ain’t got to stay here. We gotta house and chickens an’ fruit trees an’ a place a hundred time prettier than this. An’ we got fren’s, that’s what we got. Maybe there was a time when we was scared of gettin’ canned, but we ain’t no more. We got our own lan’, and it’s ours, an’ we c’n go to it.”
Curley’s wife laughed at him. “Baloney,” she said. “I seen too many you guys. If you had two bits in the worl’, why you’d be in gettin’ two shots of corn with it and suckin’ the bottom of the glass. I know you guys.”
5.“We gonna have a little place,” Lennie explained patiently. “We gonna have a house an’ a garden and a place for alfalfa, an’ that alfalfa is for the rabbits, an’ I take a sack and get it all fulla alfalfa and then I take it to the rabbits.”
She asked, “What makes you so nuts about rabbits?”
Lennie had to think carefully before he could come to a conclusion. He moved cautiously close to her, until he was right against her. “I like to pet nice things. Once at a fair I seen some of them long-hair rabbits. An’ they was nice, you bet. Sometimes I’ve even pet mice, but not when I could get nothing better.”
Curley’s wife moved away from him a little. “I think you’re nuts,” she said.