George Milton is by all accounts, a capable worker and a man of integrity. He is strong and intelligent, brave and ambitious. He is motivated by his desire to achieve the American Dream. He calculates that, if he works and saves enough, he can purchase a small plot of land, on which he can use his considerable agricultural skill to provide himself a means of living. He is also compassionate, caring for Lennie and protecting him, although he is not bound by bonds of family or law to do so.
Lennie Small is mentally handicapped. He has the mental competence of a child, often reacting to George’s instructions with tantrum behavior. He is not capable of understanding the consequences of his actions and often risks his own health with his bad decisions. He loves animals, especially it seems, mice, dogs, and rabbits. He, too, dreams of owning a small ranch. He hopes to contribute to George’s plan by working and saving his money. He wants to tend rabbits on their own ranch. Lennie is extremely strong, capable of completing more work than any man on the ranch. Like a child, he is curious about everything and he fails to understand boundaries in his interactions with others.
In the final chapter of the book, Lennie is in the brush area, where George instructed him to hide if he got into trouble. Of course, Curley’s wife is dead and the ranch hands have discovered the body. Curley has gathered a posse of men and they have begun the search for Lennie. Since George knows where to find Lennie, he goes directly to the area and finds Lennie. Once there, he comforts Lennie and calms him down. Then, in response to Lennie’s request, he retells the story of their dream ranch, including Lennie’s privileged task of caring for the rabbits. As Lennie listens to the story, he calms down even more. Then, George uses Carson’s pistol and shoots him in the back of the head, killing him. When the posse arrives in response to the gunshot, George tells them that Lennie had stolen Carson’s gun. In addition, he told them that he had managed to take the gun from Lennie and that killed him. The men accept his story.