Characters Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Lennie Small, a simple-minded man of great size and strength. His dream is to have a chicken and rabbit farm with his friend George Milton and to be allowed to feed the rabbits. George tells him about the farm over and over and keeps Lennie in line by threatening not to let him feed the rabbits. The two men are hired to buck barley on a ranch. Lennie crushes the hand of the owner’s son, kills a puppy while stroking it, and breaks a woman’s neck, all unintentionally.
George Milton, Lennie’s friend, a small and wiry man. He assumes responsibility for his simple friend and in the new job does the talking for both. At last, after the unintentional killing by Lennie, George knows that he can no longer save his friend; after telling him once again of their plan for the farm, he shoots him.
Candy, a swamper on the barley ranch. He makes George’s and Lennie’s dream seem possible, for he has three hundred and fifty dollars and wants to join them.
Curley, the son of the ranch owner. Vain of his ability as a prizefighter and jealous of his slatternly bride, he provokes Lennie into squeezing his hand. Pleased that Curley’s hand has been broken, his wife comes to make advances to Lennie, who accidentally kills her.
Slim, the jerkline skinner on the ranch. He gives Lennie the puppy...
(The entire section is 275 words.)
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Themes and Characters
This short novel allows Steinbeck to focus his attention on one of the oldest issues in human relations: people's responsibility for other people. George is saddled with "half-witted" Lennie, who depends on him to serve as both intermediary and protector in almost all situations involving contact with others. This relationship is based not on any family bond, but on George's belief that Lennie would die if not protected from others. The story of these two drifters highlights the universal plight of people in search of a better life. The dreams these two have—to own their own land, to be their own bosses, to control their own destiny—are common ones that virtually every reader shares. The novel dramatizes the tragedy of frustrated hopes, suggesting that fate inevitably crushes people's aspirations, no matter how carefully they plan to overcome obstacles to their happiness.
As one might expect in such a short work, there is little character development in the novel. Steinbeck concentrates on revealing his characters and presenting them as sympathetic or unsympathetic to focus the reader's attention on their plight. The chief characters in the novel are from the lowest social class in the West; both George and Lennie are homeless, with few financial resources and only an unbounded degree of physical energy and undaunted imagination to compensate for their plight. George is cunning to a point, but one gets the sense that he knows he is only fooling both...
(The entire section is 399 words.)
Characters / Techniques
As one might expect in such a short work, there is little character development in Of Mice and Men. Instead, Steinbeck concentrates on revealing his characters and presenting them either as sympathetic or unsympathetic in order to focus the reader's attention on their plight. The most complex character, George, is forced to choose between protecting Lennie or abandoning him and pursuing a private future; while it is not clear that he could succeed in life if he were rid of Lennie, it is apparent that as long as he befriends Lennie, George will get nowhere. Nevertheless, George remains faithful to his friend, and in that way achieves dignity even when his plans for a future life of happiness are defeated.
Steinbeck highlights the plight of his characters through his skillful use of imagery. The novel is replete with references to traps and entrapment, and the frequent use of animal imagery serves as a point of comparison for understanding the emotional states of the human characters within the work. In that way, the novel remains faithful to the spirit of the literary work from which it takes its title, Robert Burns's poem, "To a Mouse."
(The entire section is 194 words.)
Candy is the old, disabled ranch hand who is helpless to stop the shooting of his dog and who knows that he too will be banished when he is no longer useful. He is sweetly hopeful of joining Lennie and George on their dream farm, offering to contribute his savings of $350 to buy the farm.
Carlson is a skilled worker, a mechanic at the ranch who assumes an arrogance forbidden the others. He is the one who orders Candy's dog to be put to death. Carlson has no feelings about the animal and no concept that anyone else might care about the old creature. He is insensitive, brutal, violent, and fanatical; his only contributions to the group are destructive. His callousness is especially evident at the end of the novel. Upon seeing Slim and George sadly walk off for a drink after George has shot Lennie, Carlson says, "Now what the hell ya suppose is eatin' them two guys?"
Crooks, the despairing old Negro stable worker, lives alone in the harness room, ostracized from the ranch hands. On the one occasion when he briefly talks to Lennie and Candy, the bunkhouse worker who wants to be part of the dream farm Lennie and George are planning to buy, Crooks tells them they will never attain their dream. Crooks is excluded from the rest of the ranch hands, except at Christmas when the boss brings in a gallon of whiskey for the entire crew.
(The entire section is 1110 words.)