Of Mice and Men – Essay Questions

These may just help the thinking process. I used this with all of my students to support them when planning essays.

1. Describe in some detail the incident where Lennie crushes Curley’s hand. What does this incident reveal about the characters of Curley and Lennie?


This topic could be conveniently split into thirds (Describe / Curley / Lennie). However, it may be better to comment on the characters as you describe the incident; this would save you from repeating detail of the incident later.

Answer Plan

  • Beginning of incident
    • Curley is humiliated and angry –       why?
    • Lennie is seen smiling – why?
    • Curley is a coward and a bully
    • Lennie is slow and a dreamer
  • Curley’s attack
    • Curley uses boxing skill to cruelly attack Lennie
    • Lennie does nothing to fight back
    • Stresses Curley’s frustration, cruelty
    • Curley resents big men because he is small
    • Lennie is basically gentle, does not want to fight
  • Lennie crushes Curley’s hand
    • Lennie obeys George’s instructions to ‘get him’
    • Crushes the bones of Curley’s hand, ending fight
    • Frightened, has to be told to stop
    • Lennie is simple, can’t think for himself
    • He is immensely strong, causes serious injury
    • Lacks control (important for later)
  • Conclusion
    • Curley vents his anger on ‘helpless’ Lennie
    • Lennie is a gentle giant who only does what he’s told.

2. The killing of Candy’s old dog foreshadowed Lennie’s death. Describe the two killings, pointing out any similarities and differences between them.


Which is better – to describe the two killings and then comment on them, or to mention the similarities and differences as you describe?

Answer Plan

  • Killing of dog
    • Carlson nags Candy about dog
      • offers to shoot him
    • Describes how he will do it
    • Carlson takes dog out, tension in bunkhouse
    • Finally there is a shot, Candy withdraws into silence
  • Killing of Lennie
    • George steals Carlson’s Luger, same gun
    • Finds Lennie by pool, different place
    • They talk, George tries to make Lennie happy
    • Others are approaching, George must hurry
    • George shoots Lennie, unlike stranger shooting dog
    • Method of killing exactly the same as with dog
  • Conclusion
    • gun and method are the same
    • reason for both killings
      • to prevent suffering
    • George kills Lennie for love, Carlson doesn’t love dog

Of Mice and Men – Answer the Question advice

Sometimes  as teachers we need to  show our learners what an answer may look like.  Here is a good example written by the exam board reminding us first what we know about Curley’s wife and then advice on what to use to answer the question posed.

Curley’s Wife
Points and quotes

At first, Curley’s wife is described to the reader through the comments of the men on the ranch. Candy tells Lennie and George when he first meets them that she ‘ got the eye’ for the men on the ranch, even though she has only been married to Curley for two weeks. Candy thinks that she is ‘a tart’.

We first meet Curley’s wife when she comes into the bunkhouse, when Lennie and George are in there. She is apparently looking for Curley but she already knows that new men have arrived. Steinbeck gives a detailed description of her as she stands in the doorway of the bunkhouse and talks to Lennie and George. She is ‘heavily made up’, with ‘full rouged lips’ and red fingernails. Her body language is provocative as she positions herself in the doorway so that ‘her body was thrown forward’. She smiles ‘archly’ and ‘twitched her body’. The general impression the reader gains is of a young girl who is pretty and wants the attention of men.

George’s reaction to Curley’s wife, however, makes the reader realise that she is a potential threat to the two men. George sees her as ‘poison’ and ‘jailbait’. He is angry with Lennie’s admiration of her ‘she’s purty’ and fiercely tells him that he must stay away from her. ‘Don’t you even take a look at that bitch.’ Later, when we find out what happened at Weed, where Lennie frightens a woman by stroking her dress and they are forced to flee the town from a lynch mob, we understand why George is so alarmed that she will be the cause of more trouble for them.

As the story progresses we gain more knowledge of Curley’s wife. When she comes to Crooks’ door when all the men are in town on Saturday night we realise that she is lonely. She knows that Curley has gone to a brothel and we get some insight into what the reality of her life is on the ranch. When Crooks suggests that she should go away because ‘we don’t want no trouble’ she says ‘Think I don’t like to talk to somebody ever’ once in a while’ and we realise that she is lonely with noone to talk to but Curley who spends all his time talking about ‘what he’s gonna do to guys he don’t like’. We also find out that she has her own private dream that she could have been an actress or a showgirl.

However, any sympathy that we might have felt for Curley’s wife is reduced because of the cruelty she shows when talking to the men and by the way she treats Crooks. She is contemptuous of Candy, Crooks and Lennie, referring to them as ‘a nigger an’ a dum-dum and a lousy ol’ sheep’ and she laughs at their dream of having a ranch of their own, dismissing it as ‘Balony’. Far worse though is the way she removes all Crooks’ pride and dignity when he dares stand up to her, asking her to leave his room. She reminds him scornfully that she could have him ‘lynched’ if she chose. She doesn’t actually say so, but Candy and we know that it would be by claiming that he had tried to rape her.

When Lennie is in the barn and Curley’s wife enters the reader is again aware of how lonely she is. Even though she realises that Lennie is not listening to her she is desperate to talk and we hear how isolated she feels. When Lennie tells her that he’s not allowed to talk to her she cries ‘ What’s the matter with me?’ Then adds ‘Seems like they ain’t none of them cares how I gotta live’. We then find out more details of her life, that a man who ‘was in pitchers’ said that he was ‘gonna put her in the Movies’ and would write to her as ‘soon as he got back to Hoollywood’. The letter never came, and Curley’s wife believed her mother stole it but we realise that there was never likely to be any letter. The man was probably just taking advantage of her vanity, allowing her to think that she could be a famous film star.

We also find out that Curley’s wife only married Curley to get away from home. She met him at the Riverside Dance Palais, probably attracted to him because he was the son of a ranch owner. Now, however, the reality is that she doesn’t even like him. ‘He ain’t a nice fella’, she confides in Lennie. When they are talking together she shows some kindness to Lennie when she realises that he understands little of what she is saying. After she is dead we are shown by Steinbeck a different side of Curley’s wife. In death the ‘meanness and the plannings and the discontent and the ache for attention’ have gone from her face. We see she is just a young and pretty girl.

Does Steinbeck Condemn Or Condone Curley’s Wife?

Answer the question!

It is no good just writing about Curley’s wife as I have done above, if you are being asked a specific question. To answer this question correctly in the exam you must discuss at which point in the story you think Steinbeck is asking us to judge Curley’s wife as being a ‘bad ‘ person, or whether you think that at the end he is trying to make us feel some sympathy for her.

Remember that writers put characters across to us through describing:

  • what they look like –      physical appearance
  • what they say – dialogue      with others
  • what they do – their      actions
  • what other characters say      about them

If we look through the men’s eyes we see that they view her as just a ‘tart’ and are wary of her. The physical description Steinbeck uses reinforces this idea – heavily made up. And her actions are also provocative (leaning against the doorway. We also see she is cruel in what she says to Crooks.

However, there are occasions when we see a better side of Curley’s wife. We see her loneliness; she is kind to Lennie; she has a dream that she is not likely to achieve, like the other men on the ranch, and finally, Steinbeck’s description of her dead body seems designed to make us see her as a victim of life.

You answer should show that you have thought about the question and have set out a line of argument, showing both sides (condemn or condone) but finally reaching your own personal conclusion. If you do not answer the question, especially if you do not refer to it at the end of your answer, your grade will suffer!

Now try these

Hope and dreams help people to survive even if they can never become real. How true is this of the characters in Of Mice and Men? (Higher Tier NEAB)

What do you think about the end? Remember to include your feelings, what you think about the friendship and whether John Steinbeck prepared you for this end.

How does John Steinbeck draw together the two characters of George and Lenny.  What words does he uses to describe each one to make them different, how does he show their unique friendship.  Use quotes to demonstrate your understanding.

Loneliness is an integral part of this story.  Compare the characters that are lonely. What are their differences and similarities, Why does John Steinbeck do this?

Of Mice and Men shows us that people can be cruel.  Find three characters and write about them. Are they either cruel or kind or  a mixture of both? Why do they behave in this way? How do you respond to them? How did John Steinbeck make you feel this way?

Slim is the only character in this story not handicapped. Do you agree?

Comment on George’s idea that ranch hands are ‘the loneliest guys in the world.’ How does this prepare us to meet other characters in the novel?

Why is it important to the plot that Lennie wants to tend the rabbits and likes to pet soft things?

How does John Steinbeck relate this theme to America in the 1930’s?

How does John Steinbeck present women in this novel? How do women fit in the novel ?

How does Steinbeck represent ranch workers?

Of Mice and Men – Who is talking?

Encourage the learners to know the text by using these sentences and phrases to explain who is talking and to also e.xplain the context

‘I ain’t sure it’s good water, … looks kinda scummy.’

‘I remember about the rabbits, George.’

‘God a’mighty, if I was alone I could live so easy.’

‘Guys like us, that work on ranches, are the loneliest guys in the world.’

‘Hide in the brush until I come for you. Can you remember that?’

‘I wrote Murray and Ready I wanted two men this morning.’

‘…what stake you got in this guy? You takin’ his pay away from him?’

‘I seen ’em poison before, but 1 never seen no piece of jail-bait worse than her.’

‘Hell of a nice fella, but he ain’t bright.’

‘You seen a girl around here?’

‘He’ll want to sleep right out in the barn with ’em,’

‘What’d he do in Weed?’

‘We can’t sleep with him stinkin’ around in here.’

‘George, why is it both end’s the same?’

‘I could cook and tend the chickens and hoe the garden some.’

‘Leggo of him Lennie, let go.’

‘This punk sure had it coming to him.’

‘Gonna get a little place an’ live on the fatta the lan’.’

‘A guy can talk to you an’ be Sure you won’t go blabbin’.’

‘I tell ya a guy gets too lonely, an’ he gets sick’

‘You bindle bums think you’re so damn good.’

‘I could get you strung up on a tree so easy it ain’t even funny.’

‘Why do you got to get killed? You ain’t so little as mice.’

‘I coulda made somethin’ of myself.’

‘I done a bad thing. I done another bad thing.’

‘I’ll shoot ‘im in the guts.’

‘He been doin’ nice things for you alla time’

‘Never you mind … A guy got to sometimes.’

‘Now what the hell do you suppose is eatin’ them two guys?’

Of Mice and Men – Who is being described here? 2

‘She had full, rouged lips and wide spaced eyes, heavily made up. Her fingernails were red. Her hair hung in little rolled clusters, like sausages. Her voice had a brittle, nasal quality.’


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‘A tall man … he combed his long black damp hair straight back. … he moved with a majesty only achieved by royalty and master craftsmen. … His hatchet face was ageless. He might have been thirty-five or fifty.’


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‘A powerful, big-stomached man’


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‘The angry little man …’


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‘…calm godlike eyes’


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‘… thick-bodied’


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‘A young labouring man … His sloping shoulders were bent forward, and he walked heavily on his heels, as though he carried an invisible grain bag.’


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‘A lean Negro head, lined with pain, the eyes patient’


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‘His body was bent over to the left by his crooked spine, and his eyes lay deep in his head, and because of their depth seemed to glitter with intensity… ‘


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‘She was very pretty and simple, and her face was sweet and young’


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‘… a little fat old woman. She wore thick bull’s eye glasses and she wore a huge gingham apron with pockets, and she was starched and clean.’


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Of Mice and Men – Plot Outline

Outline of the plot.  This can be very useful for revision or to secure the important parts of the story in the students minds.

Chapter 1

George Milton and Lennie Small appear in a woody clearing by the Salinas River. We learn that they are travelling (itinerant) farmworkers heading for a job on a ranch, and that George is in charge of Lennie who is of very limited intelligence. Lennie likes ‘petting’ soft things, and is obsessed with rabbits. We also learn that they had to leave Weed because Lennie was accused of molesting a girl. George tells Lennie to come and hide in the brush if there is any trouble. They have supper, talk of their dreams of owning a farm, and go to sleep.

Chapter 2

George and Lennie have arrived at the bunkhouse where the men of the ranch sleep. They meet Candy ‘the swamper’, an old man with one hand who looks after the bunkhouse. They settle in. Then the Boss arrives, he is angry that they are late, and suspicious because George does not let Lennie speak. Candy comes back with his old dog, and then Curley, the boss’s aggressive son also looks in and tries to bait Lennie. Candy later explains that Curley likes to fight bigger men, and that he has just got married. Curley’s wife then appears briefly. The men, including Slim and Carlson return from the fields. Slim’s dog has just had puppies; George says that he will ask if Lennie can have one.

Chapter 3

It is now evening, and the men are playing horseshoes outside in the yard. Slim and George are talking in the bunkhouse. Lennie comes in with his new puppy under his coat, but George makes him take it back to the barn. The other men come in. Carlson complains about the smell of Candy’s dog, and offers to shoot it. Despite Candy’s protests Slim agrees that this should be done, but that he can have one of his puppies. Everybody leaves except Candy, George and Lennie. Lennie starts talking to George about their dream farm. Candy, who has been grieving for his dog, starts listening, and asks if he can join in the scheme. He has money – $350 – saved. The rest of the men come back, talking about Curley’s wife. Then Curley comes in, and picks a fight with Lennie, who crushes his hand.

Chapter 4

The scene is set in Crooks’ room. He does not live with the other men because he is black. He is a bitter, solitary man, and is not pleased when Lennie comes to talk to him, but he realises that he can say what he likes to Lennie, and that Lennie will not gossip, or remember what has been said. Candy comes in to look for Lennie, to talk about the farm. Crooks is very interested, and thinks that he might be able to join them. Curley’s wife then appears, and flirts with the men. When Crooks stands up to her, and tries to get her to leave, she threatens him, saying that she could get him lynched. The other men come back from town.

Chapter 5

Lennie is in the barn. He has accidentally killed his puppy by petting it too hard. All the other men are playing horseshoes outside. Curley’s wife comes into the barn. Lennie tries to ignore her, as George has told him not to speak to her, but he ends up telling her what happened to the puppy. Curley’s wife starts telling him about her life and dreams. She invites Lennie to feel her soft hair. When Lennie starts to stroke it too hard, she becomes frightened and struggles. Lennie panics, and in an attempt to quieten her, breaks her neck. Realising that he will be in serious trouble, he half-hides the body in the hay, and escapes. Candy comes in to look for Lennie and sees Curley’s wife. He goes and gets George. George tells Candy to give him a few moments to think, and then to go an tell the men. They all burst in, including Curley, who says he will shoot Lennie, and rushes to get his gun. Slim realises that they will have to find Lennie, and asks George where he might have gone. Some of the men are sent for the Sheriff, At the end, Candy is left alone with the body and his broken dreams,

Chapter 6

The scene is the same as Chapter 1. Lennie is hiding in the brush, as George had told him to do. He has visions or hallucinations of his Aunt Clara and a gigantic rabbit telling him off for letting George down. George finds him, and the sound of the other men can be heard in the distance. George sits down beside. Him. Lennie expects George to give him hell, but they just talk. Lennie asks again to be told about the farm. As they talk, George shoots him in the back of the head with Carlson’s gun. The men appear, very excited. Slim realises straight away what has happened, that George had no choice and leads him away from the clearing.

Of Mice and Men – Characters

Of Mice and Men

by John Steinbeck


The Characters

George Milton          A travelling farmworker, friend and, protector of Lennie. He is small, but intelligent and quick-witted.

Lennie Small            A huge child-like man who travels. with George. He is incapable of looking after himself, is extremely strong, and is fascinated by soft things.

Candy                        An elderly man who has lost one hand in an accident on the ranch. He looks after the bunkhouse.

The Boss      A small stocky man who owns the ranch. He can be short tempered, but is considered a good boss.

Curley            The Boss’s son. A small, angry man, who is always ready to pick a fight. He has been a boxer. He has been married a fortnight to

Curlev’s Wife           A pretty, lonely girl who dreams of being a film star. We never learn her name.

Slim    A tall, thoughtful Man who drives the mules and horses. An expert worker, and the man whom everyone looks up to.

Carlson         A worker on the ranch. He is powerfully built, and a bully, with little understanding of people’s feelings. He owns a Luger pistol.

Crooks          Looks after the horses (is the ‘stable buck’). He is the only black worker on the ranch, a proud and lonely man who has to live apart from the other men. His back is twisted after a kick from a horse.

Whit    A young ranch worker.