In the original tale, a proud town mouse visits his cousin in the country. The country mouse offers the city mouse a meal of simple country cuisine, at which the visitor scoffs and invites the country mouse back to the city for a taste of the "fine life" and the two cousins dine like emperors. But their rich and delicious metropolitan feast is interrupted by a couple of dogs which force the rodent cousins to abandon their meal and scurry to safety. After this, the country mouse decides to return home, preferring security to opulence or, as the 13th-century preacher Odo of Cheriton phrased it, "I'd rather gnaw a bean than be gnawed by continual fear".
The story was widespread in Classical times and there is an early Greek version by Babrius (Fable 108). Horace included it as part of one of his satires (II.6), ending on this story in a poem comparing town living unfavourably with life in the country. However, it seems to have been the 12th century Anglo-Norman writer Walter of England who contributed most to the spread of the fable throughout medieval Europe. His Latin version (or that of Odo of Cheriton) has been credited as the source of the fable that appeared in the Spanish Libro de Buen Amor of Juan Ruiz in the first half of the 14th century. Walter was also the source for several manuscript collections of Aesop's fables in Italian and equally of the popular Esopi fabulas by Accio Zucca, the first printed collection of Aesop's fables in that language (Verona, 1479), in which the story of the town mouse and the country mouse appears as fable 12. This consists of two sonnets, the first of which tells the story and the second contains a moral reflection.