The basic plot is simple: four beings (two mice and two Littlepeople) are living in a maze, and looking for Cheese - "cheese being a metaphor for what we want to have in life, whether it is a job, a relationship, money, a big house, freedom, health, recognition, spiritual peace, or even an activity like jogging or golf." The two mice are Sniff "who sniffs out change early" and Scurry "who scurries into action." The two Littlepeople are Hem "who denies and resists change as he fears it will lead to something worse" and Haw "who learns to adapt in time when he sees changing can lead to something better."
Although on one level, it is a very simple tale - when the cheese runs out at one Cheese Station, the two mice immediately head off to another part of the Maze and eventually find some new cheese, whereas the two Littlepeople take longer to react - it is a profound metaphor for our attitudes to change. Some people sense very early on that change is in the air, and trim their sails accordingly; and some rush straight into action in the new direction. But some, like the Littlepeople, find change very challenging. Some, like Hem, simply cannot accept that a change has taken place, and stay as they are, in the stubborn and despairing belief that things will go back to what they were. They are resistant to change, because it doesn't feel safe. Others, like Haw, are afraid of change at first, but then common sense kicks in, and they realise that anything is better than staying on the sinking ship, or in the losing situation, and slowly, warily, move on and discover that actually, change can be good.
In the story, Haw leaves Hem at the old, empty Cheese Station, and sets out to find New Cheese. On the way, he makes a series of discoveries about himself, and leaves little notices up on the walls of the Maze for Hem to find, should he summon up the courage to leave the old Cheese Station. In the process, he learns how to cope productively with change, so that it is an opportunity, rather than a challenge. The notices read as follows:
- "They Keep Moving The Cheese (change happens)
- Get Ready For The Cheese To Move (anticipate change)
- Smell The Cheese Often So You Know When It Is Getting Old (monitor change)
- The Quicker You Let Go Of Old Cheese, The Sooner You Can Enjoy New Cheese (adapt to change quickly)
- Move With The Cheese (change)
- Savour The Adventure And Enjoy The Taste Of New Cheese! (enjoy change!)
- They Keep Moving The Cheese (be ready to change quickly and enjoy it again and again."
"Live adventurously. When choices arise, do you take the way that offers the fullest opportunity for the use of your gifts in the service of God and the community. Let your life speak."
"Every stage of our lives offers fresh opportunities. Responding to divine guidance, try to discern the right time to undertake or relinquish responsibilities without undue pride or guilt. Attend to what love requires of you, which may not be great busyness."