Adapted from John Steinbeck's novel and a play, a friend tries to keep a brawny simpleton out of trouble as they work on a farm to gain a stake.
George Milton (Burgess Meredith) and Lennie Small (Lon Chaney Jr.) are pursued by men and get on a train. They get off a bus but have to walk ten miles. By a river George tells dim-witted Lennie what to do and takes a dead bird from him. George complains about Lennie's rough behavior that gets him in trouble. Lennie asks George to tell how they will have a rabbit hut. George and Lennie are hired by the suspicious boss, who questions them. Old Candy (Roman Bohnen) takes them to the bunk-house. Curley (Bob Steele) quarrels with George and is jealous of his wife Mae (Betty Field). Curley argues with Mae over the pup Slim (Charles Bickford) gave her. Curley tells Slim to stay away from Mae. Lennie asks Slim for a pup and is happy to get one. George tells Slim about Lennie.
Mae is bored with Curley, who won't take her to the movies. Carlson (Granville Bates) tells Candy his old dog smells and suggests he shoot him. Slim persuades Candy, and Carlson shoots the dog. Mae finds Slim in the barn and says she wants to leave Curley; but Slim spurns her. Curley looks for Mae, and men expect a fight. Lennie asks George about their plans for a farm. Candy says he has $300 and wants to go with them. George says they could do it in one month. Curley comes in and picks a fight with Lennie. After Curley hits Lennie many times, Lennie crushes his hand. Slim advises Curley not to tell anyone.
George goes to a saloon. In the barn Lennie meets black Crooks (Leigh Whipper), who says a guy needs someone to talk to and scares Lennie he may lose George. Candy comes in and plans the rabbit business. Crooks offers to work for them. George comes back and reprimands Lennie for talking. Mae comes in and asks Crooks about Curley's hand, realizing it was Lennie. Mae laughs at Curley, who tells her to leave. Candy and George talk about spending money on drinks. Mae with a suitcase finds that Lennie killed his pup. Mae says she married Curley to get away from home; her father was a drunk and was put away. Mae has Lennie feel her hair. She starts to scream, and he grabs her. Lennie runs out. Candy takes a pup, and George discovers that Mae is dead. George tells Candy to say he found her, and George takes Carlson's gun. Curley finds Lennie's hat and says he did it. Slim and George agree that only a gun can get Lennie out of this. While men search, George and Slim go to meet Lennie by the river. Slim waits, and George talks to Lennie about their dreams and then shoots him in the back. Slim turns George in to the sheriff.
In this tragedy several people are unhappy with their
situations and want to change them; but George is unable to keep
the strong Lennie from killing accidentally, suggesting how vulnerable
human life is to violence.