John Steinbeck was born in Salinas, California, in 1902. The Salinas Valley—and the nearby Monterey— would serve as the setting for some of his greatest fiction, including his long masterpieces The Grapes of Wrath and East of Eden. In his youth, he intermittently attended Stanford between 1919 and 1925, eventually leaving without taking a degree. He began to work as a laborer, writing stories at the same time. After three unsuccessful novels, he achieved popular success with his book of short stories, Tortilla Flat which described the lives of Monterey paisanos like Gitano of The Red Pony.

The Red Pony was published in 1945, six years after Steinbeck had made his reputation with publication of The Grapes of Wrath. Like much of his fiction, The Red Pony takes place in the vicinity of Salinas and Monterey. Because most of his work deals with similar settings, what sets each work apart is form and theme. The Red Pony comprises four connected stories describing a young boy and his growing up. In 1949, Steinbeck turned the book into a screenplay.

Steinbeck went on to win the Nobel Prize in 1962, mainly on the strength of his early novels, which dealt with the social problems of workers and farmers in California. More recently, Steinbeck's critical reputation has been somewhat diminished, though his books remain commonly read.