"Of Mice and Men"

Questions for study and discussion of Steinbeck's controversial novel

The cover of
Penguin

"Of Mice and Men" is a famous and controversial novel written by American author and Nobel Literature Laureate John Steinbeck. In his writing, Steinbeck routinely championed poor and oppressed workers, detailing the harsh conditions they were forced to endure in bleak and often graphic detail. His keen perception of and compassion for those who—whether by choice or circumstance—lived outside the strictures of society are qualities that made him one of the most revered writers of the 20th century.

An Uneasy History

At the time of its publication, "Of Mice and Men" forced Americans to look at a dark underside of then-current culture and the unpleasant truths of class disparity that many preferred simply to ignore. While on one level, the book is a testament to the nature of true friendship in the face of staggering adversity, ultimately, it is a tragic tale of outsiders not necessarily seeking to fit in, but merely to survive.

Due to its use of profane language and dark themes such as murder, mental disability, prejudice, sexuality, and euthanasia, the book has landed on banned books lists more than once and has been removed from high school curriculums and libraries. Not surprisingly, thanks to its disturbing content and the author's provocative purpose of shining light on double standards and uninformed retribution, "Of Mice and Men" elicits a wide variety of opinions and interpretations, which makes it a challenging and worthwhile novel to discuss and debate. Here are some questions that will get the conversation rolling.

Starting From the Top:

  • What work of literature is Steinbeck referencing with the book's title and why do you think he chose it? 

Themes and Symbols:

  • What is the central purpose of the story?
  • What are other themes in the story? How do they relate to the plot and characters? 
  • Can you think of any symbols that represent one of the themes you just discussed? 
  • How does the setting add to the story? Could the story have taken place anywhere else?
  • In several of Steinbeck's novels, including "The Grapes of Wrath" and "Of Mice and Men," The Great Depression has been likened to a character in and of itself. How important to the story are the times in which it was set?
  • What types of conflicts occur in "Of Mice and Men"? Are the conflicts physical, intellectual, or emotional?

Let's Talk About The Characters:

  • Are George and Lenny consistent in their actions?
  • Are they fully developed characters? 
  • From the woman in the velvet dress to Curley's wife, female characters play a large part in shaping Lennie and George's destiny. What is the role of women in the text? Why do you think Steinbeck did not give his female characters names?
  • How does John Steinbeck reveal character in the novel?

What Are Your Opinions?

  • Would you recommend this novel to a friend? 
  • Do you think the book should be censored or banned? 
  • Do you find the characters likable? Can you identify with any of them?
  • Do you think the book accurately depicts what life was like in Depression-era America?
  • Do you think the book still relevant today? If so, why?
  • Can you think of any current issues that are similar to those in the book?
  • Does the story end the way you expected? How? Why?