The story began with the two main characters, George and Lennie, coming out of some woods in the Salinas River Valley of California. The two men were migrant ranch workers who had just gotten off a bus and were making their way to another job. The ranch is a distance from where they were let off, so after walking a while, they stopped to rest by a creek and spent the night. George made it perfectly clear to Lennie that when they arrived at the ranch, he would do the talking. Lennie was enormous in stature, but he was mentally incompetent. The majority of George's energy was devoted to looking after Lennie who was ignorant, helpless, and almost childlike in mind and actions. But George and Lennie shared a dream of one day owning their own land and living the life of normal ranchers. George had a childlike action of desiring to pet soft things, and his stupidity and carelessness cause him to unwittingly harm animals and people, which is one reason they had to move from place to place to work.
Lennie caused George a lot of trouble and even hindered George from living the life of which he dreams. Even so, George and Lennie continue to dream, and on this particular night George relived the dream of being future farm owners, with Lennie being put in charge of taking care of all the soft rabbits they will own. The next morning they got up, and before they left, George told Lennie that if anything happened, to come back to this place. They finished the walk to the ranch. They met the boss's son Curly at the bunkhouse. He was an angry, hotheaded man who was insecure about his size and over-protective of his new wife. Curly was mean and was eager to fight anyone who he thought is a threat to his self-image. At this time, Curly confronted George about Lennie not speaking for himself, and George warned Lennie in the future to avoid him at all cost. Curly left the bunkhouse and a little later Curly's wife came to the bunkhouse. She was very pretty and George was fascinated with her, and this she seemed to enjoy. According to one of the hands on the ranch, she had "the eye". George immediately realized she and Curly posed a serious threat to them. Even Lennie in his innocent mindedness said that they should leave, but George paid no heed. Then another man named Slim entered the bunkhouse. He was the leader of the workers and was highly respected. He welcomed both George and Lennie. The next man to enter was Carlson. He was a powerful but friendly man. Slim and Carlson talked about the puppies that Slim's dog just had. Carlson suggested to Candy, a crippled worker at the ranch, that he shoot his old sheepdog and replace it with one of his puppies. Right at that time the dinner bell rang and everyone but George and Lennie hurried off. When they were alone again, Lennie was excited because he might get one of Slim's puppies. George agreed to ask Slim for one. Curley, who was looking for his wife, interrupted them. George told him that she was looking for him at the house.
Later that day Slim agreed to let Lennie have one of his puppies. Slim said he was very impressed on how good of a worker that Lennie was. He said that it was rare to see two guys traveling together. George said that he knew Lennie's aunt and promised that he would take care of him when she died. George continued to tell Slim of the trouble that Lennie got them into in Weed, another ranch. Candy, his old dog, and Carlson then entered the bunkhouse. Carlson was pressing Candy about shooting his old dog. But Candy didn't want to because he'd had him too long. Slim thought that Carlson was right and offered Candy one of his pups. Candy couldn't argue with Slim so he unwillingly agreed. Carlson then got his gun and took the old dog outside and shot him. At this point, the stable buck came in and told Slim that he had the tar heated up to fix the hoof of one of Slim's mules. Slim left with him to go fix it. Lennie and Carlson then came back with his gun. Carlson kept his eyes away from Candy, who said nothing. Curley came in after them looking for his wife. He saw that Slim wasn't there and suspected something between them and then quickly left. Whit, another worker at the ranch, and Carlson hoped to see them fight, so they followed them. After a while, Lennie convinced George to tell him about the farm and the rabbits again. George did and they became mesmerized by the story, forgetting about Candy. Candy broke in and said that he knew of a place that they could buy and offered to help pay for it if he could live with them too. George hesitated, but he couldn't refuse the $350 that Candy offered. George then made all of them agree to keep their dream a secret. Slim, Curley, Carlson, and Whit then entered. Curley was apologizing to Slim for suspecting that something was going on between Slim and his wife. Carlson and Candy joined Slim in teasing Curley. Curley then turns to Lennie, who was still smiling, imagining the rabbits. Curley thought that Lennie was laughing at what Slim had said and he started to hit Lennie. Lennie got terrified and backed away. George told Lennie to "get" Curley and Lennie grabbed one of Curley's fists and crushed it in his own. Lennie was too scared to let go, but after some yelling he let go. Slim told Curley to say he got his hand stuck in a machine or they would tell everyone that he had gotten beat up by Lennie and everyone would laugh at him. George told Lennie that he had done nothing wrong. The next night, Lennie went to Crooks' room. Crooks was the stable buck. Crooks didn't want Lennie in there but eventually agreed to let him stay. Lennie then told Crooks of his, George, and Candy's dream of getting the farm. Candy then came in and sat with them. He also forgot their promise and told Crooks about the plan. Crook's then said that if they needed some help for almost nothing that he would help. Just then, Curley's wife came in. She started asking about what really happened to Curley's hand and Candy said it got caught in a machine, but she knew what really happened. Then he told her to leave. She did, but not before thanking Lennie for breaking Curley's hand.
Sunday afternoon, all of the men, except Lennie who was in the barn, were participating in a horseshoe tournament. Lennie was petting the puppy which had died. Curley's wife then came to the barn and found Lennie there. She tried to talk to him but he said he couldn't talk to her. She saw the puppies and consoled him. She said that it was alright for him to talk to her. She asked if he liked soft things and he admitted that he did. She let him touch her hair. After a while he liked it a little too much and she told him to not mess it up. She jerked sideways and Lennie, scared, gripped her hair firmly. He tried to get her to be quiet, but when he shook her to calm her down, he accidentally broke her neck. He got scared and snuck out of the barn. Candy soon came to the barn and found Curley's wife dead. He ran and told George, who was very upset, and they went back to the barn. George realized that it was Lennie who killed her. Both men realized that Curley would want Lennie dead. They also realized that their dreams of the farm had been ruined. Candy then went and told the others. All the men came into the barn and gathered around Curley's dead wife. Curley realized that it was Lennie that did it because everyone else was playing horseshoes. Carlson ran off to get his gun but when he came back he said his gun was missing. They figured that Lennie must have taken it. Curley then came back with his shotgun. George begged Curley not to shoot Lennie, but Curley refused. They took off to go find Lennie. Lennie was hiding in the brush alongside the pool where George told him to come to if anything ever happened. Lennie then began to hallucinate and was confronted by what he believed to be the ghost of his Aunt Clara and a giant rabbit. He was terrified by them and called out George's name. George then came to him. He asked George to tell him about the farm and the rabbits. George told him the story and told him to look across the river and try to see the place. George pulled Carlson's pistol out of his pocket and shot Lennie in the back of the head. Lennie died instantly. At that time the others appeared in the clearing. George convinced the others that he had convinced Lennie to give him Carlson's pistol and then he shot him with it. The book ended with George and Slim walking off to get a drink.
George was the story's main protagonist. He was a small, quick man. As a migrant worker, he dreamt of one day owning his own farm. He was hindered by Lennie. He had traveled with Lennie since Lennie's Aunt Clara died. Even though Lennie was no relation to George, George still looked out for Lennie and got him out of their troubles. George always kept a positive outlook toward their future, and kept Lennie's spirits up. At the end of the story, George is forced to shoot his long-time companion who prevented him from achieving his own dream, but also killed his own dream only to take on the new burden of loneliness and sadness. Lennie called George a friend, but the feeling wasn't exactly mutual. He told Slim one time that he was so used to having Lennie around that he couldn't get rid of him. But he also was protective and sometimes prideful of Lennie. George had a specific dream of changing the way they lived to a much more desirable life of being ranch owners, and working only for themselves. Much of the time George fueled Lennie in this dream, but no matted how intensely he planned, their dream was never fulfilled.
I thought this book at times was difficult to read, being full of slang language. I also am not generally fond of a book that ends with a tragedy. This had a surprise ending with the whole book being of two men working towards a common goal, and then in a heartbeat, their hopes and dreams all went down the drain. It's not the type of book I would usually read. Reading this kind of book left me feeling rather down.