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Crooks is an African American ranch hand in a place and time when such an individual was doomed to social ostracism. All of the ranch hands in Steinbeck's novel Of Mice and Men are desperate in their own way. What sets Crooks apart, however, is his skin color. He is a cranky, obstinate old man because circumstances have given him little option but to exist in near-isolation. He has his books to enlighten him and to fill the lonely evenings alone in his room, segregated from the white ranch hands who dominate the environment. In the chapter in which Crooks and Lennie have their key dialogue, the older, wiser Crooks bares his soul to the simple giant:
"Books ain’t no good. A guy needs somebody—to be near him.” He whined, “A guy goes nuts if he ain’t got nobody. Don’t make no difference who the guy is, long’s he’s with you. I tell ya,” he cried, “I tell ya a guy gets too lonely an’ he gets sick.”
Crooks is making a simple statement of reality that remains relevant today when discussions focus on the psychological effects of solitary confinement in penal institutions. An absence of human contact will, over time, result in the gradual but steady deterioration of one's mental state. People are, by nature, social animals; they need each other for emotional sustenance. Crooks knows of which he speaks: his absence of human companionship has left him angry and bitter.
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