In 1937, during the Great Depression, the quick-witted George Milton (Gary Sinise) looks after his physically strong yet mentally disabled companion Lennie Small (John Malkovich). The two are fleeing from their previous employment as workmen in Weed, California where Lennie was accused of attempted rape when he touched and held onto a young woman (Moira Harris) and her red dress, prompted by his love of stroking soft things. George and Lennie escape and travel to Soledad, which is near the ranch where they have work. While walking down the road to the ranch, George catches Lennie petting a dead mouse. Despite Lennie's pleas to keep the dead mouse and his claims that he did not kill it, George takes it from him and throws it, causing Lennie to cry. George, showing sympathy, tries to explain to Lennie he took the mouse away due to Lennie's inability to control his strength. George tells him he will get him a puppy.
Close to evening, George decides they should camp in the brush by the river and go to the ranch the next morning. Lennie asks George to tell him again about their American dream, as he has numerous times, and George reluctantly agrees. George describes how the two will one day have their own piece of land, and how Lennie will tend (and pet) their rabbits. George adds, if Lennie should ever get in trouble, he is to return to the brush and wait for him.
The two go to work at Tyler Ranch. The ranch Boss (Noble Willingham) becomes suspicious of Lennie's mental condition when Lennie talks, forgetting to keep silent as George had instructs him. In order not to be fired, George lies to the Boss, telling him Lennie is his cousin and that he was kicked in the head by a horse when he was a child. At the bunkhouse, George and Lennie befriend an aged, one-handed ranch-hand, Candy (Ray Walston). However they take an instant dislike to the Boss' son, Curley (Casey Siemaszko), who hates people who are bigger than him. Curley forces Lennie to talk despite George's objections. Because of Lennie's height and mental handicap, he won't fight back unless he is told to do so, so he's an easy target for Curley to pick on. Lennie then becomes instantly attracted to Curley's seductive, yet dishonest wife (Sherilyn Fenn), who comes into the bunkhouse to flirt with Lennie and George. When Lennie calls her "purty", George, aware that Curley's wife will bring trouble upon the men due to her sexual allure and persistent flirting, strenuously disagrees with Lennie, and calls her a "rat-trap." George strictly instructs Lennie to keep away and not to look at her.
While at a barn waiting for Crooks (Joe Morton), an educated and intelligent black man who is bitter and isolated because of his race, George is discovered by Curley's Wife, who attempts to engage in a conversation, and plans to seduce him. However, the attempt is interrupted when Curley enters the barn and confronts George, who responds "minding my own business". Curley tells his wife to return to the house, but not before he issues a threatening warning to George; if he gets caught "minding his own business" again, Curley will beat him to a pulp and have him sacked on any false accusation.
George is introduced to his work team. Slim, the head of the team, who is greatly respected, and Carlson. When Carlson suggests they shoot Candy's old dog and get Slim to give him one of his pups, Lennie gets excited and asks George for a pup. After a hard day's work, George is proud of Lennie's work load and gets Lennie his puppy.
Later, after Carlson kills his dog, Candy offers to pitch in with Lennie and George so they can buy the farm. Just as it seems that the dream is moving closer to reality, Curley comes around making a scene, accusing Slim (John Terry) of keeping his wife company as the workers, who witnessed the argument, mock Curley. Curley spots Lennie laughing unintentionally, and he punches him repeatedly, yelling at him to fight back. The other men yell at Curley and encourage Lennie to fight. Lennie grabs Curley's hand when Curley attempts another punch, and crushes it in his iron grip. George fears for his and Lennie's jobs on the ranch, but Slim gives Curley an ultimatum: Curley tells people his hand was just caught in a machine; if Curley tries to get George and Lennie sacked, Slim will tell everyone how Curley's hand really got crushed, and everyone will laugh at him. Curley, concerned for his reputation, reluctantly agrees to keep quiet.
The next day, Curley's wife (who has found out about her husband's hand) appears, trying to talk to George and Lennie while they're at work. When George and Lennie do not respond, Curley's wife gets angry, refusing to admit that she is a source of trouble for the men. She is suspicious when she sees the bruises on Lennie's face, but George tells her Curley "got his hand caught in the machine". Later, Lennie and Crooks talk about being lonely, after which Curley's wife again attempts unsuccessfully to engage in conversation, now aware of what really happened to Lennie. Having reached the limit of her patience, the emotionally frustrated wife vows to leave the ranch forever, running to the house in tears.
In the barn that evening, Lennie has accidentally killed his puppy and is greatly upset. Curley's wife enters and tries to speak to him, admitting she is lonely and how her dreams of becoming a movie star were crushed, revealing the reason she flirts with the ranch hands. After finding out about Lennie's love of petting soft things, she lets him stroke her hair, but she soon complains he is "muss[ing] it up," and screams. Lennie tries to keep her quiet but accidentally breaks her neck in the process. Realizing he's in trouble, he runs to the brush as George told him to do. Candy finds Curley's wife dead and informs George, and the two realize their dream will never happen. Curley leads a mob which chases after Lennie intending to lynch him. George finds Lennie first and, wanting to spare him a violent and painful death at the hands of the mob, calms Lennie by telling him their new dream to move South, to escape the mob. George shoots Lennie in the back of the head. George then rides in a boxcar, heading South, remembering their old dream and his memories of Lennie.Gary Sinise as George Milton
John Malkovich as Lennie Small
Ray Walston as Candy
Casey Siemaszko as Curley
Sherilyn Fenn as Curley's Wife
Noble Willingham as the Boss
John Terry as Slim
Richard Riehle as Carlson
Joe Morton as Crooks
Mark Boone Junior as the Bus Driver
Moira Harris as the Girl in the Red Dress
Alexis Arquette as Whit
The first experience Sinise had with Steinbeck's work came when Sinise attended Highland Park High School. His drama class went to Guthrie Theater and observed three plays in two days, one being Of Mice and Men. After viewing the play, he "stood up and applauded" and "was trying to scream some sort of acknowledgement of my feelings [...] but I was so choked up nothing came out except tears." He credits the play with "[introducing] me to literature".
On April 16, 1992, Gilles Jacob, director of the Cannes Film Festival, announced the 27 films competing in the "Official Competition" category, including Of Mice and Men. The film premiered the next month, and was Sinise's second film to compete at Cannes, after the 1988 feature Miles from Home. After viewing Of Mice and Men, critic Don Marshall noted how the audience gave a standing ovation to its cast. Marshall said he was "surprised" that the film didn't win an award, although Sinise was nominated for the Palme d'Or, given to the director of the best featured film.
The film made its American debut on October 2, 1992, and grossed $5,471,088 from a total of 398 theaters. Despite what the Los Angeles Daily News described as a "poor box office performance", the film received positive critical acclaim. Critic Roger Ebert gave the film 3.5/4 stars, and complimented the cast on their attention to detail. Writing for Variety, Todd McCarthy was impressed at the set design, and contrasted the film's "lovely, burnished hues" with the studio-produced 1939 film. He went on to say that the actor's performances were "sterling" and gave the supporting cast positive reception. Vincent Canby of The New York Times also praised the physical production and supporting cast, but added that the film "is not very exciting", possibly because "looking back at Lennie and George with the perspective of time robs them of their urgency." The Austin Chronicle's Steve Davis called Of Mice and Men "unassuming but well-made", and gave the film 3/5 stars. MGM released Of Mice and Men on VHS in 1993. The film was later released as a DVD by MGM Home Entertainment on March 4, 2003. The DVD is featured in widescreen with English, French, and Spanish subtitles, and has the option of French dubbing. The film was then released on Blu-ray by Olive Films on January 19, 2016.
Rotten Tomatoes reported that 96% of critics gave the film a positive review based on a sample of 28 reviews, with an average score of 8/10.