The 2010 novel followed Vlautin's previous works, The Motel Life and North line. Lean on Pete drew praise from critics in the U.S. and abroad, including a rave from Vlautin's fellow Oregon author, Cheryl Strayed, whose bestselling memoir, Wild, was also turned into a movie that filmed in Oregon.

Chloƫ Sevigny revealed that she was originally approached to play Charley's aunt, but her agent fought for her to play Bonnie because the latter character is a larger role with "more [for Sevigny] to sink her teeth into."

There is an actual race horse called Lean On Pete, registered in Ireland.

Director Andrew Haigh has referred to Steve Buscemi and Chloƫ Sevigny as "the king and queen of American independent cinema," respectively.