Of Mice and Men Chapter 1
The novel begins near the Salinas River, south of Soledad in the California valley. The Gabilan Mountains rise up on one side and drop to valleys on the other. The river and its banks are alive with animals and plants. A path leads to the banks of the river, and the two main characters, George Milton and Lennie Small, follow this path to the river. While George is small with sharp features, Lennie is a big man with rounded features. He drags his feet when he walks, following George step for step. They are on their way to a job at a nearby ranch, and their ride has left them several miles away. It is hot and they are tired from the walk.
When the two men reach the water, Lennie falls to his knees and takes a long drink. George gets angry with him for drinking so fast from water that might not be good. Lennie's action and this exchange show his mental retardation. When George sits down, Lennie imitates him exactly. And when George starts to complain about how their ride left them so far from their destination, Lennie has to ask George where they are going because he can't remember. George, annoyed, reminds Lennie about where they got their jobs and their work cards, and Lennie looks in his pocket for his. Certain Lennie would lose it, George did not let him keep his card. But Lennie does have something in his coat pocket. It is a dead mouse, which Lennie wanted to keep and pet. Lennie loves to pet such soft things, but he is so strong he usually kills them. It is not important to Lennie that the mouse is dead, but George is annoyed. Lennie reluctantly gives him the mouse, and George throws it across the water. George then asks Lennie if he remembers where they are going, but he has forgotten again. George tells him it is a job like the one they had in Weed. George tells Lennie not to say anything when they get to this new job, and Lennie repeats the instructions softly to himself. It's important that he remember because George wants to avoid trouble like they had in Weed. Also, if the boss heard Lennie's slow speech they could lose their jobs.
The sun is starting to set. George and Lennie are still by the river. Lennie wants to know why they aren't going ahead to the ranch for supper. George answers that he wants some rest before work starts. He has beans for them to eat, and he sends Lennie to get some wood for a fire. Instead of getting wood, Lennie sneaks off to find his mouse, hoping for something soft to pet. George isn't fooled, and demands the mouse. Lennie reluctantly gives it to him, and George throws it away again. Lennie starts to cry, and George feels sorry for being so mean. He promises Lennie when they find a live mouse he'll let him keep it awhile. Still upset, Lennie wishes the lady who used to give him mice was here. This woman was Lennie's Aunt Clara, but Lennie is not able to remember much, including his aunt's name. Aunt Clara stopped giving Lennie mice because he would always kill them. He is just too strong to play with something so delicate. Lennie thinks rabbits would be much better, because they're bigger. George tells Lennie to forget about rabbits and go get wood so they can eat. When they start to eat, Lennie says how he likes his beans with ketchup. George yells:
"'Well, we ain't got any,' George exploded. 'Whatever we ain't got, that's what you want. God a'mighty, if I was alone I could live so easy. I could go get a job an' work, an' no trouble....An' whatta I got,' George went on furiously. 'I got you! You can't keep a job and you lose me ever' job I get. Jus' keep me shovin' all over the country all the time. An' that ain't the worst. You get in trouble. You do bad things and I got to get you out.'" Chapter 1, pg. 11.
It is dark now, and George has become quiet. Lennie creeps over and apologizes for asking for ketchup, and says if there was any here he would give it all to George. George is all Lennie has, and he can't stand having him angry with him. George forgives Lennie, and becomes friendlier. But Lennie isn't convinced. He offers to go off alone and find a cave. He would live alone and find his own food, and if he got a mouse no one would take it away. George knows Lennie isn't smart enough to do this, and he feels bad for pushing Lennie to this suggestion. To cheer Lennie up, he promises him a pup. But Lennie keeps up this talk, making George feel bad so he will tell him again about the rabbits. The rabbits are part of a dream the men have. They hope one day to buy a farm and raise their own food and animals. Lennie is very excited because there will be rabbits for him to tend (and pet). They have faith their dream will come true because they aren't alone in the world. They have each other, and that means there is always someone looking out for them, and someone they can talk to.
George reminds Lennie not to say a word tomorrow, and that if there is any trouble, to come back to this spot and hide in the brush. He warns Lennie that if he isn't good, he won't get to tend the rabbits.