In Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men, what is the relationship between George and Lennie like?

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William Delaney eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Many people have posted questions about the relationship between George and Lennie. A few have asked if they have a homosexual relationship. I believe it is impossible for a critic to talk about these two characters as if they were real people. They are only creations of the author John Steinbeck. What is important is understanding his purpose in creating them, just as it is important to understand why he created all the other characters, including the pugnacious Curley and his adolescent wife. None of these people are real. Steinbeck created them to serve specific purposes in a story about farm workers in California during the 1930s.

Steinbeck wanted to dramatize his depiction of the hard, lonely, dead-end lives of the men called "bindlestiffs," who carried all their worldly belongings in bed-rolls on their backs (like the jolly swagman in the Australian song “Waltzing Matilda”) and went from ranch to ranch looking for unskilled agricultural work. During the spring and summer months there was a demand for fruit pickers, and the growers provided some kind of accommodations for these workers. But they could never stay in one place for long. They had to "follow the crops," and the different fruits grew in different parts of the state. All of the work was back-breaking and low-paying.

Steinbeck painted a much broader picture in his masterpiece, The Grapes of Wrath. His novelette Of Mice and Men was almost like a practice exercise or a sketch book in preparation for the much more powerful novel about the Okies and Arkies who had to come out to California when the great drought created a Dust Bowl in the mid-1930s and tenant farmers were being evicted from their homes.

In Of Mice and Men, Steinbeck wanted to focus on a couple of men who travel around together working on ranches all the way from Bakersfield to Weed. It is important to understand that while writing his book, Steinbeck was already planning to turn it into a stage play. The play opened in New York in 1937, the same year the book was published. Steinbeck wanted to have, not one, but two central characters, because that way he could handle all his exposition by having them talk to each other. Most of the bindlestiffs were "loners," but he needed two who were partners mainly in order to write dialogue that would inform the reader, and the future theater audience, of all the information they needed to know. A good example of how Steinbeck uses dialogue for exposition is found in Chapter 1.

[George] took on the elaborate manner of little girls when they are mimicking one another. “Jus’ wanted to feel that girl’s dress—jus’ wanted to pet it like it was a mouse—Well, how the hell did she know you jus’ wanted to feel her dress? She jerks back and you hold on like it was a mouse. She yells and we got to hide in a irrigation ditch all day with guys lookin’ for us, and we got to sneak out in the dark and get outta the country.

By making Lennie mentally retarded, Steinbeck was able to have George explain everything to him and to the reader at the same time. These two bindlestiffs have a symbiotic relationship. George tells Lennie what to do, and Lennie’s size and strength provide protection for George, who is described as “a little guy,” in the tough world of freight cars and hobo jungles.

In analyzing characters in fiction, it is useful to keep in mind that they are only creations of the human imagination, whether they are called Hamlet or Holden Caulfield--or whatever.

key123 | Student

They are friends but George promised Aunt clara that to take care of him no matter what happens even if it affects his life.

emily2111 | Student

you know when you get that feeling where you keep doing the samething over and over again and when u just can't stand it anymore you just break out all of a sudden,not sure if this made sence for u but basically george i think has that feeling but he seems to not have much of a choice he has to have lennie's back no matter what he does;otherwise he could end up somewhere bad,if he leaves lennie on his own.

vswain | Student

they are basically pals and running buddies

mcabeza | Student

George and Lennie's relationship can be seen in many different ways.  George is Lennie's caretaker, father figure, and brother. George is a man of principle.  He promised Aunt Clara he would take care of Lennie. No matter how impatient or angry George gets, he always forgives Lennie for his wrongdoings.