“You had better give it to me to take care of… At least, you can if you like. You needn’t if you don’t like.”

This is one of the first things that Steerforth says to a young David when they meet at Salem House. Their interaction demonstrates Steerforth’s talent for manipulation and deception. Here, he essentially takes possession of David’s money while phrasing it as a suggestion so that David never realizes that he is being robbed. As a result, he instantly complies. This is a crucial moment for Steerforth’s characterization, and for David’s; it demonstrates David’s willingness to believe the best of Steerforth, whom he idolizes, and showcases a particular low-stakes manipulation on Steerforth’s part, one which anticipates more sinister plots he will enact over the course of the novel, such as his manipulation of Little Em’ly and the Peggottys.

“If you think, Steerforth… that I am not acquainted with the power you can establish over any mind here… or that I have not observed you, within a few minutes, urging your juniors on to every sort of outrage against me, you are mistaken.”

This line is spoken by Mr. Mell, a kind but poor teacher at Salem House whom Steerforth has a hand in sacking. Angered by Steerforth’s blatant disrespect, Mr. Mell points out the power that Steerforth has over the people in his life. It is a vindicating moment for the reader because they have likely been frustrated by David’s naïveté and his inability to realize that Steerforth is not worthy of his idolization. Here, Mr. Mell is essentially speaking for the reader. 

“On warning you… against your bad Angel.”
“My dear Agnes… if you mean Steerforth—”
“I do, Trotwood.”

The above exchange between Agnes and David occurs when Agnes visits David in London, during which she urges him to be careful around Steerforth. This moment is important for two key reasons. One, the interaction highlights Agnes’s superior perceptiveness and intelligence—she instantly sees through Steerforth’s fabricated charm where David could not. And two, it depicts Agnes and Steerforth as warring influences over David, with Agnes pulling David towards the light and Steerforth dragging David towards the dark. 

“I am looking at the likeness of the face… that has looked at me, in my home, at my fireside, in my boat—wheer not?—-smiling and friendly, when it was so treacherous, that I go half wild when I think of it.”

This line is spoken by a heartbroken Mr. Peggotty as he begs Steerforth’s mother for any news of Little Em’ly, his beloved niece who has run-off with Steerforth and fallen into ruin. Here, he expounds upon the extent of Steerforth’s treachery because he betrayed the Peggottys’ kindness after they trusted him and welcomed him into their humble home. Mr. Peggotty’s recollection that Steerforth was always kind and polite in their presence emphasizes Steerforth’s talent for masking his sinister ways behind false sincerity.

“Do you remember when he did this?... Do you remember when, in his inheritance of your nature, and in your pampering of his pride and passion, he did this, and disfigured me for life? Look at me, marked until I die with his high displeasure; and moan and groan for what you made him!”

Rosa Dartle yells this line to Mrs. Steerforth after David delivers the news of Steerforth’s death at sea. The “this” in question is the scar on Rosa’s lip from when a young Steerforth threw a hammer at her face during a childhood tantrum. Throughout the text, Rosa’s scar symbolizes Steerforth’s propensity for cruelty. It is no surprise, then, that Rosa draws attention to the scar as she criticizes the prideful Mrs. Steerforth for spoiling her son until he became the monster that the reader knows him to be.