Chapter ONE
Two men appear in an Edenic countryside location with a “green pool”. They’re on their way to a ranch, to work, and it turns out, they’re on the run because one of them (Lennie) did a “bad thing”.

George is a small, dark man with “sharp, strong features.” Lennie, his companion, is “his opposite”, a giant of a man with a “shapeless” face who’s portrayed with animal imagery “like a dog” and with “paws”. Lennie is strong, but mentally disabled.

Lennie mimics George exactly, and obeys him, though George uses violent language towards him – calling him a “crazy bastard” picking up on the irony of “a big guy like you” “blubbering like a baby”. George says he could “live so easy” with “no mess” without him. With seeming cruelty, George throws away Lennie’s beloved squashed dead pet mouse. Lennie offers to leave and live in a “cave”. George repents of his “meanness” and tells Lennie his favourite tale of their future and how they’re different. He talks about “guys like us are the loneliest guys in the world” – but says that they’re different because they’ve got each other. He promises Lennie a farm where they’ll “live off the fatta the lan'” with “red and blue and green rabbits” “millions of ’em”.

The next day, the men report to the nearby ranch. George does all the talking and lies, explaining that he and Lennie travel together because they are cousins and that a horse kicked Lennie in the head when he was a child. They are hired. They meet Candy, an old “swamper,” or handyman, with a missing hand and an old, incontinent dog, and Curley, the boss’s mean-spirited son. Curley is newly married, possessive of his flirtatious wife, and full of jealous suspicion with a glove full of “vaseline”. Yuck!

Once George and Lennie are alone in the bunk house, Curley’s wife appears, cutting off the light to the doorway and flirts with them. Lennie thinks she is “purty,” but George and the other men abuse her once she’s gone as a dangerous “tart”. Her “full rouged lips” and “ostrich feather” mules seem to support this, though there’s no real evidence she’s a loose woman except from the men’s talk. George and Lennie meet Slim, the skilled mule driver who is the unofficial leader of the workers.

Slim picks up on how unusual it is for two guys to travel together, and George doesn’t explain at first. 

Carlson, another worker on the farm, suggests that since Slim’s dog has just given birth, they should offer a puppy to Candy and shoot Candy’s old, stinky dog.
The next day, George confesses to Slim that he and Lennie are not cousins, as he told the ranch manager, but have been friends since many years back in “Auburn”. George explains about the ‘bad thing’ in Weed, where they got run out of town because Lennie made a girl scream (it’s not totally clear what happened – mistaken for rape?). Slim agrees to give Lennie one of his puppies, and Carlson continues to pester Candy to kill his old dog. Slim agrees with Carlson, and suggests it would be kindest to kill the dog, Candy gives in, but doesn’t have the guts to shoot the dog himself. Carlson, before leading the dog outside, promises to do the job painlessly.
Slim goes to the barn to do some work, and Curley, who is maniacally searching for his wife, heads to the barn to accost Slim. Candy overhears George and Lennie discussing their plans to buy land, and offers his life’s savings if they will let him live there too. The three make a pact to let no one else know of their plan. Slim returns to the bunkhouse, berating Curley for his suspicions. Curley, searching for an easy target for his anger, finds Lennie and picks a fight with him. Lennie crushes Curley’s hand in the altercation. Slim warns Curley that if he tries to get George and Lennie fired, he will be the laughingstock of the farm.
The next night, most of the men go to the local brothel. Lennie is left with Crooks, the lonely, black stable-hand, and Candy. Curley’s wife flirts with them, refusing to leave until the other men come home. She notices the cuts on Lennie’s face and suspects that he, and not a piece of machinery as Curley claimed, is responsible for hurting her husband. This thought amuses her. The next day, Lennie accidentally kills his puppy in the barn. Curley’s wife enters and consoles him. She admits that life with Curley is a disappointment, and wishes that she had followed her dream of becoming a movie star. Lennie tells her that he loves petting soft things, and she offers to let him feel her hair. When he grabs too tightly, she cries out. In his attempt to silence her, he accidentally breaks her neck.
Lennie flees back to a pool of the Salinas River that George had designated as a meeting place should either of them get into trouble. As the men back at the ranch discover what has happened and gather together a lynch party, George joins Lennie. Much to Lennie’s surprise, George is not mad at him for doing “a bad thing.” George begins to tell Lennie the story of the farm they will have together. As he describes the rabbits that Lennie will tend, the sound of the approaching lynch party grows louder. George shoots his friend in the back of the head.
When the other men arrive, George lets them believe that Lennie had the gun, and George wrestled it away from him and shot him. Only Slim understands what has really happened, that George has killed his friend out of mercy. Slim consolingly leads him away, and the other men, completely puzzled, watch them leave.