At the start of the novel, it is Thursday night and George and Lennie are on the way to start temporary jobs at the ranch. The men are described in contrasting ways: George is small and quick, while Lennie is very large and awkward.
They have been dropped off further away than they expected by a bus driver, so George decides that rather than walking a long way to the ranch, they should camp by the Salinas River and go to work in the morning so that they can enjoy some freedom for one more night before working for someone else again.
George gives Lennie instructions, such as not drinking too much water from a nearby pool and to throw away a dead mouse he has been carrying in his pocket. George warns Lennie not to speak when they go to the ranch the following day and tells him that if he gets into any trouble he should return to the clearing they are currently in and hide.
It becomes clear that Lennie enjoys stroking, or ‘petting’, soft things, but often kills them because he does not know his own strength. Lennie gets the dead mouse again and tries to hide it from George. George tells Lennie how difficult life is due to looking after Lennie, reminding him that they had to run away from their previous job in Weed.
Lennie then threatens to leave George and live in a cave. George is sorry and tells him to stay. Before sleeping, George describes their dream to Lennie; they want to buy their own small farm where they will grow their own food, rear animals and keep rabbits for Lennie to look after.
Chapter Two starts the following morning. George and Lennie arrive at the ranch and meet Candy first, who tells them that the boss of the ranch is angry about them coming late (he expected them to arrive the day before) but is usually a
pretty nice fella. The Boss arrives and questions his new workers about their late arrival and then their skills and previous employment.
George speaks for Lennie, making the Boss suspicious. George lies, telling him that Lennie is his cousin and he looks after him because he was kicked in the head by a horse as a child. Although still mistrustful, the Boss tells George and Lennie that they will be working on Slim’s grain team.
The Boss’s son, Curley, enters the bunkhouse and sizes Lennie up, demanding that he talks to him. After Curley leaves, Candy warns George that Curley is a boxer who enjoys beating up bigger men. Curley’s wife also enters the bunkhouse later, when Candy isn’t there, and flirts with George and Lennie, and then Slim, who passes by. After she leaves, George warns Lennie to stay away from her because she is trouble.
Slim talks to George and Lennie and is impressed by their friendship, which is unusual for itinerant workers. Then Carlson enters and complains about the smell of Candy’s old dog. He asks Slim about his dog’s puppies and suggests that Candy should kill his own dog and replace it with a puppy from Slim.