Discuss the relationship between George and Lennie in Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men.
You may wish to include all of the following in your answer:
- their travelling and working together
- how they relate to other characters in the novel
- their dream
- incidents that occur on the ranch
- Lennie's death
As critical and close readers will discover, the relationship between the intelligent, but small and weaker George Milton and the mentally handicapped, but large and stronger Lennie Small [notice the last names!] is symbiotic, just as the second post clarifies. Even Lenny expresses this relationship:
because I got you to look after me and you got me to look after you, and that's why
While George complains in the first section of Steinbeck's novella Of Mice and Men that he does not know why he keeps Lennie around--"I could get along so easy and so nice if I didn't have you on my tail"--he later explains the importance of Lennie's friendship:
I ain't got no people....I seen the guys that go around on the ranches alone. That ain't no good. They dont' have no fun. After a long time they get mean. They get wantin' to fight all the time.
So, although he is often irked with Lennie, George stays with Lennie out of commitment to his promise to Lennie's aunt, but also because he cares about Lennie and understands that, as Joseph Conrad wrote, "Meaning in life depends upon sharing." This idea is central to Steinbeck's theme of the brotherhood of man and how men fare better if they are not alienated because, if alienated, they become mean and cruel out of their fear of vulnerability, as does the character, Curley. The strength to oppress others is itself born of weakness, Steinbeck tells his readers.
Most importantly for both George and Lennie, Lennie is the keeper of the dream. For, without the child-like Lennie there is no dream of a ranch and rabbits and "livin' off the fat of the land." It is for Lennie's sake that George repeats the dream of their having land; George does not really believe that this dream will come to fruition--at least, at first. But, with his childlike friend's belief being so strong, George himself starts to believe in a future, thus acquiring some hope in his life. So, Lennie not only gives George much needed love, but he also lifts George from his life "of quiet desperation" as Thoreau wrote.
When Lennie dies, so does the dream for George and old Candy. And, this is why George has Lennie recite the dream one more time before his death:
George shivered and looked at the gun, and then he threw it from him, back up on the bank, near the pile of old ashes. [symbol of death of Lennie and the dream]
According to Steinbeck, all men need someone to help them measure the world. The dysfunctions and psychological complexes of the other characters all stem from their lacking this someone. After all, it is the predatory human tendencies that defeat Lennie and George in the desperate mouse maze of life of the Great Depression.
In Of Mice and Men, George is a combination of mother/protector/friend/bully to Lennie. Lennie owes his survival, such as it is and as short as it is, to George. The society of the novel has no place for someone like Lennie, and he is completely dependent on George.
When someone talks to them, Lennie is dependent on George to talk. Lennie's conversation with Curley's wife near the end of the novel is proof that George does well not to let Lennie talk--Lennie doesn't talk about anything but rabbits. He cannot carry on an intelligent conversation.
What little hope is actually present of buying their own place and raising rabbits is also dependent on George. Lennie certainly isn't going to save money, find a place, negotiate a deal, etc., much less run the place. They have little to no chance of ever succeeding with their goal and dream, anyway, but whatever little chance Lennie does have, rests with George.
Finally, what little dignity Lennie possesses is also in George's hands, although dignity may not be the best word. George puts Lennie out of his misery, rather than allowing him to suffer indignities (maybe it is the best word) and death at the hands of Curley and a mob.
In a couple of places in the story, there are conversations that reveal this relationship for what it is. As migrant workers with no family or permanent roots, both George and Lennie represent someone who cares about the other person. George speaks of other guys who could disappear and no one would notice, whereas "we got someone who gives a hoot in hell about us". So while Lennie is trouble, can't take care of himself and gets in the way of George just having a good time with the guys, he wouldn't abandon him for this reason - he's the only family he's got.
To me, these two men have sort of a strange relationship. I think that the strangest part is what is in the relationship for George.
I think Lennie's part in the relationship is pretty clear. He relies on George to keep him out of trouble. Most of all, he relies on George to be the one who can make their dream come true.
But why does George keep Lennie around? This is much harder to understand. So I think that George must have some sort of issues that make him need to have someone around that he can boss and bullly. I think he feels how powerless he is and he needs Lennie so he can feel powerful.
So in a way, it's almost like an abusive relationship where the abuser (George) keeps the abused around so he can feel powerful.
However, when I think about George killing Lennie, this doesn't make any sense anymore. He clearly cares for Lennie a great deal at that point -- making sure that Lennie dies in a "good" way.