Some critics of the work consider George, and especially Lennie, somewhat flat representations of purity, goodness, and fraternal devotion, rather than convincing portraits of complex, conflicted human beings. They charge Steinbeck with being excessively sentimental in his portrayal of his protagonists, his romanticization of male friendship, and in the deterministic plot that seems designed to destroy this friendship. Others, however, contend that any exaggeration in Of Mice and Men, like in so many of Steinbeck’s other works, is meant to comment on the plight of the downtrodden, to make the reader sympathize with people who society and storytellers often deem unworthy because of their class, physical or mental capabilities, or the color of their skin.
Whether or not these issues constitute a flaw in the novella, it is true that Steinbeck places George, Lennie, and their relationship on a rather high pedestal. Nowhere is this more clear than in the story George constantly tells about the farm they one day plan to own. This piece of land represents a world in which the two men can live together just as they are, without dangers and without apologies. No longer will they be run out of towns like Weed or be subject to the demeaning and backbreaking will of others. As the novella progresses and their situation worsens, George and Lennie’s desire to attain the farm they dream about grows more desperate. Their vision becomes so powerful that it will eventually attract other men, who will beg to be a part of it. George’s story of the farm, as well as George and Lennie’s mutual devotion, lays the groundwork for one of the book’s dominant themes: the idealized sense of friendship among men.
True to the nature of tragedy, Steinbeck makes the vision of the farm so beautiful and the fraternal bond between George and Lennie so strong in order to place his protagonists at a considerable height from which to fall. From the very beginning, Steinbeck heavily foreshadows the doom that awaits the men. The clearing into which the two travelers stumble may resemble Eden, but it is, in fact, a world with dangers lurking at every turn. The rabbits that sit like “gray, sculptured stones” hurry for cover at the sound of footsteps, hinting at the predatory world that will finally destroy Lennie and George’s dream. The dead mouse in Lennie’s pocket serves as a potent symbol of the end that awaits weak, unsuspecting creatures. After all, despite Lennie’s great physical size and strength, his childlike mental capabilities render him as helpless as a mouse.
Steinbeck’s repeated comparisons between Lennie and animals (bears, horses, terriers) reinforce the impending sense of doom. Animals in the story, from field mice to Candy’s dog to Lennie’s puppy, all die untimely deaths. The book’s tragic course of action seems even more inevitable when one considers Lennie’s troublesome behavior that got George and Lennie chased out of Weed, and George’s anticipatory insistence that they designate a meeting place should any problems arise.