Very Interesting Critique of the Amercian Dream (SPOILERS),
This review is from: Of Mice and Men (Penguin Modern Classics) (Paperback)Just thought that I'd add some of the literary themes I see in the book: very good descriptions of plot and characters in other reviews.
This book uses Thoreau's views of self reliance (living off the fat of the land etc) to create a vision of an ideal future for the outcasts of the society of the novel - Lennie, Candy, Crooks,; arguably setting up an examination of the American Dream.
If you can accept this, then the novel makes a very interesting comment on the notion of the Dream as here what is sought is not material or financial gain but happiness and security based on earlier American philosophy (Thoreau - specifically in Walden). The main obstacle to acheiving this is money as the group cannot afford this. Some criticism finds Curly's wife difficult although I personally contend that this is a specific Dream for Lennie - female company which is totally unobtainable and Curly's wife, reading this way, is sybolic of acheiving the Dream - she is in the top level of society and when Lennie can never obtain this the Dream begins to crumble (although Curly's wife herself finds her life empty - the Dream is a fallacy for her). From the point of her death, the Dream for all those outside of the conventions of normal society can no longer be obtained as the potential to earn enough to buy the ranch to live off the fat of the land cannot be acheived. Before shooting Lennie, George tells the story about living off the fat of the land - Steinbecks point is reinforced: the Dream does not exist.
I personally feel that Steinbeck makes a comment on the power of capital over an individual throughout the novel through George. To begin, George will look after Lennie and help him as much as possible. After spending some time on the ranch, the lure of spending a night on the town draws George away from Lennie (and removes some capital from the Dream to fund consumption); you then have arguments between the two. It is uncomfortable, but possible that George decides to kill Lennie out of a deisre to continue in accepted society with his equals rather than follow the Dream with it's outsiders.
This is an excellent introductory book to Steinbeck - these themes are repeated in detail in other works.
I wish I could write something as powerful and beautiful as this book.