Kaufman suggested expanding the role of the only woman in the story, which Steinbeck did, and adding more humor, which Steinbeck refused to do.
Steinbeck eventually settled on the title Of Mice and Men, from the lines in a Robert Burns poem: "The best-laid schemes o' mice an' men/ Gang aft a'gley" (Parini 184). The book tells the story of George Milton and Lennie Small, two itinerant ranch hands who share a lifestyle and a set of dreams but little else. George is "small and quick, dark of face, with restless eyes and sharp, strong features" (Steinbeck 16), while Lennie is "his opposite, a huge man, shapeless of face, with large, pale eyes" (Steinbeck 17). Lennie is unaware of his physical power, the strength which makes him an excellent farmhand but which causes him to kill every small, soft creature he takes as a pet, simply by petting each one too hard. George, for reasons he cannot explain even to himself, has become Lennie's guardian, protecting him and trying to keep him in line, while sharing a dream with him of eventually getting their own place and settling down.
Steinbeck lays out their story in six succinct chapters, each starting with a description of a specific location and then carrying the narrative along primarily through dialogue. He introduces the two men as they arrive at a riverbank "a few miles south of Soledad," California (Steinbeck 15). In Spanish, Soledad means a lonely place, and loneliness is an important theme in the novel. Georg