Deemed an American classic and a high school literary staple, Of Mice and Men is one of John Steinbeck’s most famous stories. This novella follows the journey of two men as they search for a better life on the West Coast. Throughout the story, Steinbeck explores themes of isolation, nature, friendship, and the American Dream, all of which are as relevant today as when the novel was first written.

Students reading Of Mice and Men would greatly benefit from receiving preliminary background information about the Great Depression, especially the plight of migrant workers. Like George and Lennie, many people traveled across the country in pursuit of the American Dream, only to find that the poor economy and lack of steady jobs made settling down difficult. As they read, your students can analyze the ways in which Steinbeck’s portrayal of George and Lennie provides commentary on the era’s social climate.

Analyzing the book’s title will also help students better understand central themes. Steinbeck adapted the title from Robert Burns’s poem “To a Mouse,” in which Burns expresses his regret after he accidentally destroyed a mouse’s nest while farming. After reading the novella, share the poem with your students, focusing on the line “The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men / Gang aft agley” (The best laid schemes of mice and men / Often go wrong). In what ways do Burns’s sentiments parallel the themes in Of Mice and Men?

When teaching Of Mice and Men, be prepared to discuss the ethical dilemmas present in the novella, especially when examining the story’s controversial ending. The circumstances surrounding Lennie’s death provide great material for classroom debate and intriguing conversations about the gray area between right and wrong.

Keep reading for more information on teaching this classic novella!

Summary of Of Mice and Men

Key Facts

  • Publication Date: 1937
  • Length: 107 pages
  • Lexile Measure: 630
  • Recommended Grade Band: 9-10

George and Lennie have a dream of one day owning a piece of land, but for now, they’re migrant workers. After arriving at a ranch in California, George does his best to keep Lennie, who has an intellectual disability, out of trouble.

One day in the barn, Lennie accidentally strangles the wife of one of the farmhands after he misunderstands her flirtatious advances. He flees the scene before the other farm workers discover her body. George finds Lennie ahead of the others and tells him to imagine their dream. He then shoots Lennie, ultimately killing him to save him from the mob.

Content Warning: Of Mice and Men contains violence and profanity, including racial slurs.

What Your Students Will Love About Of Mice and Men

  • The naturalist imagery of the American landscape in the Great Depression
  • The social and ethical commentary that the narrative provides

Potential Student Struggles With Of Mice and Men

  • Some challenging dialect
  • The novella’s grim ending

Learning Objectives for Of Mice and Men

  • Recognize and explain the allusion in the title, Of Mice and Men.
  • Understand how the novella reflects the naturalist literary movement.
  • Discuss how Steinbeck explores the theme of isolation throughout the novella.
  • Interpret the ranch as a microcosm of America during the Depression.
  • Examine how Steinbeck uses animal imagery to describe Lennie.

Literary Elements in Of Mice and Men

  • Allusion
  • Conflict
  • Foreshadowing
  • Imagery
  • Microcosm
  • Naturalism
  • Symbolism
  • Theme
  • And more!

Major Themes in Of Mice and Men

The American Dream — Lennie and George long for a better life tending to their own piece of land, but that dream seems highly unattainable given the social climate.

Related Works:

Isolation — As migrant farm workers, George and Lennie struggle in their isolation to maintain their companionship.

Related Works:

Nature — While Lennie finds a sense of comfort in nature, other characters interfere with the natural order, such as when Carlson kills Candy’s dog.

Related Works:

Other Resources for Of Mice and Men

Order Of Mice and Men Resources from Prestwick House

Resource Format
Of Mice and Men Paperback Student Edition
Of Mice and Men Teaching Unit Reproducible Downloadable 30-Book Set
Of Mice and Men AP Teaching Unit Reproducible Downloadable 30-Book Set
Of Mice and Men Activity Pack Reproducible Downloadable 30-Book Set
Of Mice and Men Response Journal Reproducible Downloadable 30-Book Set
Of Mice and Men Multiple Critical Perspectives Reproducible Downloadable 30-Book Set
Of Mice and Men Levels of Understanding Reproducible Downloadable 30-Book Set
Of Mice and Men Complete Teacher's Kit Reproducible Downloadable 30-Book Set