Within a story, animals are often portrayed as weak and helpless, unable to move beyond the control of their human masters. Other times, they serve as strong and hostile creatures. John Steinbecks Of Mice and Men, however, uses animals to represent unique concepts: dreams, innocence and loneliness. Despite their innocent natures, all of the animals are met with death, creating loneliness for those around them. Animals play an important role in much of the symbolism found within the novel.
A common motif throughout the book, bunnies symbolize the hopes and dreams of the future. The fantasy rabbit farm shared by George and Lennie, two friends and companions working on a ranch, keeps them moving toward the goal of one day realizing that dream. Lennies love for soft creatures helps show his innocence, despite his tendency to kill the very animals he adores, due to his brutal strength. Their deaths and Lennies eventual death result in the unfulfillment of the dream, leaving everyone lonely and without purpose.
Dogs, both old and young, are a comfort to those with otherwise very lonely lives. Candy, the ranch worker, had grown attached to his old sheepdog, which he had had raised from when it was a puppy. His fellow ranch workers despised the dog, as it was useless and smelled bad, and eventually convinced Candy to have it shot. The dog, while of no working value, was a faithful companion to Candy. After its death, Candy was left in loneliness but instead of falling into despair, he chose to dream of the future along with George and Lennie.
Another dog found in the novel was Lennies puppy. Lennie, unable to control his strength, accidentally kills the puppy when it bites him. Feeling alone and betrayed, Lennie is filled with sorrow and guilt. Believing that George wont let him tend to the rabbits in their future bunny farm, he hides the puppy. The puppys death helps foreshadow the death of Lennie himself, as he is much like the puppy. Lennie has an innocent, child-like mindset, but because of a mistake, he is killed.
As found in the title, Of Mice and Men, animals, particularly mice, rabbits and dogs, are key motifs and symbols in the story. While animals are companions to humans, their innocence can often lead to their premature death. Through the use of animals, Steinbeck illustrates the themes of loneliness and death in a solid but depressing manner.