George and Lennie are obviously the central characters in the novel, but Steinbeck also tells the story of the ranch hands, of Crooks, and of Curley’s wife. In many ways George and Lennie are totally contrasting characters: George is small, sharp, quick whereas Lennie is huge, stupid, slow. Crooks and Curley’s wife have their own, tragic, stories
Activities Complete a table like the one below. Include page references to support your points, and highlight quotations which relate to characters.
Personality & behaviour
small, quick, dark, restless eyes (p2)
careful (he checks the river water - p3)
protective of Lennie (speaks for him, p26-27)
Answer the question: It is possible to feel sorry for all the characters in Of Mice and Men, especially Lennie and Curley’s wife because they die. Which of the other characters do you feel most sympathy for?
least dynamic. He undergoes no significant changes, development, or growth throughout the novel and remains exactly as the reader encounters him in the opening pages. Simply put, he loves to pet soft things, is blindly devoted to George and their vision of the farm, and possesses incredible physical strength. Nearly every scene in which Lennie appears confirms these and only these characteristics.
Although Steinbeck’s insistent repetition of these characteristics makes Lennie a rather flat character, Lennie’s simplicity is central to Steinbeck’s idea of the novel. Of Mice and Men is a very short work that manages to build up an extremely powerful impact. Since the tragedy depends upon the outcome seeming to be inevitable, the reader must know from the start that Lennie is doomed, and must be sympathetic to him. Steinbeck achieves these two feats by creating a protagonist who earns the reader’s sympathy because of his utter helplessness in the face of the events that unfold. Lennie is totally defenceless. He cannot avoid the dangers presented by Curley, Curley’s wife, or the world at large. His innocence raises him to a standard of pure goodness that is more poetic and literary than realistic. His enthusiasm for the vision of their future farm proves contagious as he convinces George, Candy, Crooks, and the reader that such a paradise might be possible. But he is a character whom Steinbeck sets up for disaster, a character whose innocence only seems to ensure his inevitable destruction.
George Like Lennie, George can be defined by a few distinct characteristics. He is short-tempered but a loving and devoted friend, whose frequent protests against life with Lennie never weaken his commitment to protecting his friend. George’s first words, a stern warning to Lennie not to drink so much lest he get sick, set the tone of their relationship. George may be terse and impatient at times, but he never strays from his primary purpose of protecting Lennie.
Unlike Lennie, however, George does change as the story progresses. The reader learns that he is capable of change and growth during his conversation with Slim, during which he admits that he once abused Lennie for his own amusement. From this incident George learned the moral lesson that it is wrong to take advantage of the weak. Of Mice and Men follows him toward a difficult realization that the world is designed to prey on the weak. At the start of the novel, George is something of an idealist. Despite his hardened, sometimes gruff exterior, he believes in the story of their future farm that he tells and retells to Lennie. He longs for the day when he can enjoy the freedom to leave work and see a baseball game. More important than a ball game, however, is the thought of living in safety and comfort with Lennie, free from the people like Curley and Curley’s wife, who seem to exist only to cause trouble for them. Lennie is largely responsible for George’s belief in this safe haven, but eventually the predatory nature of the world asserts itself and George can no longer maintain that belief. By shooting Lennie, George spares his friend the merciless death that would be delivered by Curley’s lynch mob, but he also puts to rest his own dream of a perfect, fraternal world.
One of the book’s major themes and several of its dominant symbols revolve around Candy. The old handyman, aging and left with only one hand as the result of an accident, worries that the boss will soon declare him useless and demand that he leave the ranch. Of course, life on the ranch—especially Candy’s dog, once an impressive sheep herder but now toothless, foul-smelling, and brittle with age—supports Candy’s fears. Past accomplishments and current emotional ties matter little, as Carson makes clear when he insists that Candy let him put the dog out of its misery. In such a world, Candy’s dog serves as a harsh reminder of the fate that awaits anyone who outlives his usefulness.
For a brief time, however, the dream of living out his days with George and Lennie on their dream farm distracts Candy from this harsh reality. He deems the few acres of land they describe worthy of his hard-earned life’s savings, which testifies to his desperate need to believe in a world kinder than the one in which he lives. Like George, Candy clings to the idea of having the freedom to take up or set aside work as he chooses. So strong is his devotion to this idea that, even after he discovers that Lennie has killed Curley’s wife, he pleads for himself and George to go ahead and buy the farm as planned.