As one writer says, not reading this novel "…deprives individuals and communities of the opportunity to respond to an ethical imperative insisting on virtuous treatment of our fellow human beings" (George, 83).
This is a tremendous summation of fundamentally what Steinbeck is trying to achieve with a novel like of Mice and Men, and a notion which sums up most likely Steinbeck's strongest motivation for writing the novel.
However, as one writer points out, even though the ending of this novel might disturb most readers, "these scenes also point us in the direction of an understanding of human virtue that underscores the idea that no one is expendable and that illuminates the power of courage, compassion and goodness, even under the bleakest of circumstances" (George, 83). This quote naturally leads to a discussion of the ending and with good reason. The ending of Mice and Men is indeed disturbing. After unintentionally killing Curley's wife, Lennie flees. George finds him and ends up shooting him in the head. Some critics say that George faces a moral dilemma at the end of the novel, but this is not the case. If anything, Steinbeck is demonstrating how George fundamentally acted out of love for his friend. In the last minute of Lennie's life, "George tells him the dream story about the farm and the rabbits for the last time, before shooting Lennie to save him from prison or hanging" (Williams, 9). This statement truly lays out the fate that was awaiting Lennie: George couldn't stop Curley and his men from hanging Lennie, nor could he save him from years in prison, but shooting him in the head, was fundamentally an act of kindness, as stark and shocking as it was.
Steinbeck works hard here to demonstrate what happens during times of economic exploitation and instability and national desolation: there's a price that a nation has to pay for such conditions, and generally the people who end up paying for it are the ones who are the most vulnerable and the most taken advantage of. In having Lennie shot by his best friend, Steinbeck demonstrates how that's actually and sadly enough the kindest fate for Lennie to receive. This paints a picture of the sheer misfortune of the time and how much of that needed to be stopped. Of Mice and Men was an amanifestation of Steinbeck's ideals. "Writers have to earn a living, but Steinbeck suspected that of Mice and Men would not make him rich. It was too short. Too simple and not political enough" (Williams, 13). This of course, turned out to be grossly inaccurate, as this novel has endured in the hearts and minds of readers all over the world for decades upon decades. However, what this sentiment does demonstrate is that Steinbeck had a simple story to tell, with a simple moral construct and philosophy at its heart and that he was going to write, even if he didn't think that it would be profitable, just because he wanted to.
Thus, the novel of Mice and Men has largely been considered a masterpiece by scholars and readers everywhere. The motivations and elements which drew Steinbeck to writing it are largely a conglomeration of the historical events that Salinger lived through, the geographical location where he was born and raised and spent much of his adult life, and the experiences he had as an adult. The other motivations which shaped of Mice and Men were based on Steinbeck's personal moral philosophy and conceptions of right and wrong and good and evil. This novel can also be seen as a cautionary tale about how economic disadvantage can create intense devastation.
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Williams, B. The Story Behind John Steinbeck's of…