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In John Steinbeck's novel, Of Mice and Men, the fight between Curley and Lennie is powerful and significant.
Curley is running around trying to find his wife. He believes she is fooling around with one of the men, though he cannot be sure who. His doubt in his wife's fidelity is such that he will accuse anyone. Here, he has just accused Slim who has been out working. Curley and Slim enter the bunkhouse as George, Candy and Lennie have been discussing the land claim they want to make someday with the money they make at the ranch. The plans are a secret, but this is something Lennie dreams about. He is lost in thoughts about the home they hope to have one day, smiling at what he imagines such a place will bring to them.
Meanwhile, Slim and Curley are going at it: Slim is yelling at Curley to stop bothering him about Curley's wife. The woman is Curley's responsibility and Curley should be able to control her; but if he can't, Slim warns the other man to leave him alone. Carlson passes on a comment and Curley turns on him.
You let her hang around bunk houses and pretty soon you're gonna have som'-pin on your hands and you won't be able to do nothing about it.
Curley threatens Carlson, but Carlson is having none of it, calling Curley a "God damn punk." He recognizes that Curley has tried to bully Slim and it hasn't worked, and that Curley is as "yella as a frog belly" (insinuating that Curley is a coward). Carlson says that if Curley ever comes after him, Carlson promises to "kick your God damn head off."
Candy then joins in, insulting Curley, too. Angry, Curley looks around and spots the innocent Lenny, still smiling over their talk of having their own place one day. Curley takes it personally, assuming that Lennie is laughing at him, and he explodes with rage. He starts to pick on Lennie who wants nothing to do with Curley's anger.
Curley begins to hit Lenny, while Lenny, enormous in size, hovers over Curley, covering his own face, and taking the abuse—begging George to help him. While the others want to jump in, George hollers to Lennie to "Get him." George repeats this several times, while the blood pours down Lennie's face—until George's message gets through to Lennie's brain. As Curley swings his fist again, Lennie catches Curley's hand in his massive grip and will not let go. When all is said and done...
In the next minute Curley is flopping like a fish on a line, and his closed fist was lost in Lennie's big hand.
George has to convince Lennie to release the hand. They know Curley must see a doctor—his hand is crushed; the other men are amazed at Lennie's strength. Slim threatens Curley, telling him to keep his mouth shut about the whole business or they will tell the whole story and he will be seen as a joke. Curley agrees.
The scene is powerful in that Curley believes Lennie, who is not so bright, is an easy target where he can spend his anger. Lennie does all he can to avoid physical violence—it frightens him, even though he is very strong. This provides foreshadowing as it demonstrates how strong Lennie is; the significance of this scene is that the reader now knows the extent of Lennie's power. It will prove most significant when Curley's wife later comes to Lennie and entices him to "pet" her hair, even though she has been warned to leave Lennie alone. This critical moment becomes pivotal to the story's plot, leading to the tragedy that strikes at the conclusion of Steinbeck's novel.
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