Why is Lennie reluctant to fight Curley?
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In Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men, Lennie Small is a big, strong, slow-witted man who travels around the country with his friend George. For the most part, Lennie is obedient to whatever George tells him to do. Earlier in the work, George had told Lennie that "If there’s any fightin’, Lennie, you keep out of it.” Lennie readily agreed with this command.
Accordingly, in Chapter 3, when Curley attacks Lennie because he thinks Lenny is laughing at him, "Lennie’s hands remained at his sides; he was too frightened to defend himself." So, it would appear that a combination of fear and remembrance of George's earlier command were in Lennie's mind.
Lennie allows Curley to pummel him until finally George gives Lennie the order to defend himself. It is only after Lennie hears George's command to fight back that Lennie defends himself by catching Curley's hand in his own and breaking just about every bone in his hand.
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