The friendship that George and Lennie share forms the core of the novella, and although Steinbeck idealizes and perhaps exaggerates it, he never questions its sincerity. From Lennie’s perspective, George is the most important person in his life, his guardian and only friend. Every time he does anything that he knows is wrong, his first thought is of George’s disapproval. He doesn’t defend himself from Curley because of George’s stern instruction for him to stay out of trouble, and when he mistakenly kills his puppy and then Curley’s wife, his only thought is how to quell George’s anger. He has a childlike faith that George will always be there for him, a faith that seems justified, given their long history together.
George, on the other hand, thinks of Lennie as a constant source of frustration. He has assumed responsibility for Lennie’s welfare and has, several times, been forced to run because of trouble Lennie has inadvertently caused. Life with Lennie is not easy. However, despite George’s frequent bouts of anger and frustration, and his long speeches about how much easier life would be without Lennie, George is clearly devoted to his friend. He flees from town to town not to escape the trouble Lennie has caused, but to protect Lennie from its consequences. The men are uncommonly united by their shared dream of a better life on a farm where they can “live off the fatta the lan’,” as Lennie puts it. George articulates this vision by repeatedly telling the “story” of the future farm to his companion. Lennie believes unquestioningly in their dream, and his faith enables the hardened, cynical George to imagine the possibility of this dream becoming reality. In fact, George’s belief in it depends upon Lennie, for as soon as Lennie dies, George’s hope for a brighter future disappears.
Discuss the ways in which characters communicate with one another in the story.
Steinbeck’s characters rarely communicate in a straightforward fashion, often relying on gestures to convey meaning. For example, George does not tell Lennie he loves him, but instead spins improbable stories about rabbit farms to keep his friend happy. Curley’s wife cannot express how bored she is in her marriage, so she hides from Curley whenever possible and flirts with many of the other men she meets. Candy cannot admit to a sentimental attachment to his aging dog, so he makes excuses or changes the subject when the other men ask him to put the dog out of its misery. The characters let their strongest feelings remain unstated throughout the work.
The effects of this widespread reticence are tragic. Twice, Steinbeck notes the climate of fear that pervades the book. (Slim thinks, “Maybe everybody in the whole world is scared of each other,” a thought Curley’s wife later echoes.) Because George does not try to reason with Curley, he assumes he has to kill Lennie in the story’s final moments. Because Curley’s wife cannot bare her lonely soul to the men around her, the men persist in believing she is merely a “lousy tart.” George never gives voice to his love for Lennie, so Carlson cannot understand why George seems distraught after pulling the trigger. Steinbeck depicts a series of heartbreaking misinterpretations, each the result of the characters’ common terror of saying what they’re thinking.
Discuss the role of foreshadowing in the work.
Of Mice and Men is an extremely structured work in which each detail anticipates a plot development that follows. Almost every scene points toward the inevitable tragic ending. In the first scene, we learn that Lennie likes to stroke mice and other soft creatures, but has a tendency to kill them accidentally. This foreshadows the death of his puppy and the death of Curley’s wife. Furthermore, when George recounts that Lennie once grabbed a woman’s dress and would not let go, the reader anticipates that similar trouble will arise at the ranch, especially once Curley’s flirtatious wife appears on the scene. Finally, Lennie’s panicked but brutal squeezing of Curley’s hand anticipates the force with which he grabs Curley’s wife by the throat, unintentionally breaking her neck.
The events surrounding Candy’s dog, meanwhile, parallel Lennie’s fate. Candy is devoted to the animal, just as George is devoted to Lennie, yet the old man must live through the death of his companion, who is shot in the back of the head, just as Lennie is killed at the end of the book. When Candy voices regret that he should have shot his own dog rather than allow Carlson to do it, his words clearly foreshadow the difficult decision that George makes to shoot Lennie rather than leave the deed to Curley’s lynch mob. The comparison between the two “gentle animals” is obvious; both are victims of a plot carefully designed for tragedy.