Of Mice and Men

Themes and Colors
Broken Plans Theme Icon
The American Dream Theme Icon
Male Friendship Theme Icon
The Weak and the Strong Theme Icon
Minorities, Marginalization, and Scapegoating Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Of Mice and Men, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

Of Mice and Men takes its title from a line in a famous poem by the Sottish poet Robert Burns. Burns’s poem “To a Mouse, On Turning up in Her Nest with the Plough, November, 1785” contains the lines, “The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men,/ Gang aft agley.” “Gang aft agley” is a Gaelic phrase which translates to “go oft awry,” and the poem’s concern with the difficulty—and the futility—of preparing or planning…

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The American Dream of every individual’s right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” has been ingrained within American society since the writing of the Declaration of Independence, when the phrase made its first appearance. George and Lennie’s dream of working hard and saving enough money to buy their own farm and “live off the fatta the lan” symbolizes the concrete ways in which the American Dream serves as an idealized goal…

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During the Great Depression, American society was plunged into uncertainty and chaos as jobs disappeared and the economy plummeted. Families were uprooted and scattered as people moved around the country in search of work that would allow them to survive—work that was often physically demanding in nature and necessitated grueling hours. As bunk houses on ranches like the one George and Lennie travel to in search of work filled with men—often men traveling alone, separated…

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Though many characters in Of Mice and Men long for friendship and compassion, they live in fear of each other. As Carlson's unsentimental shooting of Candy's dog early on in the novella makes clear, during the Great Depression the useless, old, or weak were inevitably destroyed as the strong and useful fought for survival. This constant struggle between the weak and the strong is one of the novella’s defining conflicts, and Steinbeck seeks…

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Of Mice and Men is set in the 1930s—a period during which women, racial minorities, and disabled individuals had few rights. The oppressive nature of the period was further compounded by the socioeconomic instability of the Great Depression. Throughout the novella, Steinbeck argues that hard times necessitate scapegoats—and that the individuals who bear the brunt of society’s frustrations, suspicions, and uncertainties are those already marginalized by the world around them.

There are several marginalized groups…

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