A major motif of John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men is the American dream and the drive to attain it. The life of a ranch hand is grim, yet the characters in the novel are still vulnerable to dreams of a better life. The dream of owning land, called the American dream by some, is what motivates George and Lennie in their work on the ranch. It is their friendship that sustains this dream and makes it possible. While the dreams are credible to the reader, in the end all dreams are crushed, and the characters are defeated by their circumstances.
The characters in Of Mice and Men have very little to look forward to as migrant ranch hands. They travel from ranch to ranch with all of their possessions in a bundle, looking for work for fifty dollars a month, and that work does not usually last very long. If a man is a good worker, he might be kept on at the ranch indefinitely and wind up as Candy does, old and crippled, just waiting until he is no longer useful. George explains the despair of a ranch hand to Lennie:
Guys like us, that work on ranches, are the loneliest guys in the world. They got no family. They don't belong no place. They come to a ranch an' work up a stake and then they go inta town and blow their stake, and the first thing you know they're poundin' their tail on some other ranch. They ain't got nothing to look ahead to. (Steinbeck 13-14)
Despite their destitute state, many of the characters in Of Mice and Men are prone to dream. George and Lennie dream of owning their own land, Candy and Crooks dream of joining them, and Curley's wife dreams of becoming an actress. According to one critic, "The dream itself is the final possibility" (McCarthy 58).
The dream, however, cannot exist without friendship. This is most demonstrable in the relationship between George and Lennie. Without the other, neither character would be able to maintain the dream. Lennie is constantly asking...