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The action of the novel takes place on or near a ranch in the Salinas Valley of California, south of San Francisco. The time period is never stated, but it is probably during the early 1930s, the time of the Depression. The rootless wandering, poverty, and despair that George and Lennie embody are all indicative of that time.
There are three specific locations-along the banks of the Salinas River near the ranch, in the ranch bunk house, and in the barn. Just as actions in the novel follow a repeating pattern, so do the settings. The following act and scene breakdown of the play form of Of Mice and Men illustrates the pattern:
• ACT I
Scene 1: Along the banks of the Salinas River, Thursday night
• ACT II
Scene 1: Same as Act I, Scene 2, Friday night
• ACT III
Scene 1: Inside the barn, Sunday afternoon
As you can see from the breakdown, the settings are like a sandwich, with the riverbank location on both edges. But while the setting at the beginning and end is the same, the atmosphere at the spot is very different. Everything is peaceful along the river in the first scene; death is in the air in the last scene. These differences are described more fully in the discussion of the novel later in this guide.