Sara Krulwich/The New York Times

What should we make of Of Mice and Men? It is easily the most attractive of John Steinbeck’s major works, and, like the themes of Wagner’s operas or the energetic conducting style of Leopold Stokowski, Steinbeck’s bindlestiffs are known to millions of post-literate Americans through Bugs Bunny cartoons. I don’t make that point facetiously; a work of art, or a literary character, has to touch the culture at a very deep level for popular parody to be possible. There is something about Steinbeck’s odd couple, George Milton and Lennie Small, beyond the obvious pathos, that is still arresting for us. Perhaps it is because there are so few writers in our own time who...

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