This paper aims at extending the well-known critical state concept, associated with quasi-static conditions, by accounting for the role played by the strain rate when focusing on the steady, simple shear flow of a dry assembly of identical, inelastic, soft spheres. An additional state variable for the system, the granular temperature, is accounted for. The granular temperature is related to the particle velocity fluctuations and measures the agitation of the system. This state variable, as is in the context of kinetic theories of granular gases, is assumed to govern the response of the material at large strain rates and low concentrations. The stresses of the system are associated with enduring, frictional contacts among particles involved in force chains and nearly instantaneous collisions. When the first mechanism prevails, the material behaves like a solid, and constitutive models of soil mechanics hold, whereas when inelastic collisions dominate, the material flows like a granular gas, and kinetic theories apply. Considering a pressure-imposed flow, at large values of the normal stress and small values of the shear rate, the theory predicts a nonmonotonic shear rate dependence of the stress ratio at the steady state, which is likely to govern the evolution of landslides. Copyright © 2013 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.