In the world of the itinerant worker during the Great Depression in Of Mice and Men, the competition for jobs was sharp as strangers vied against one another for work. This strained relationship of men resulted in cruelty, aggressiveness, and a certain alienation of one from another. For those like Candy, the old swamper who has lost a hand in a machine, life is threatening as he worries about being cast out because he may be seen as useless. Like his dog, he is also old, and this age causes him anxiety as well.
Relagated to cleaning at the ranch where he lost his hand in an accident, Candy greets George and Lennie as they arrive; but, he is very cautious. When George spots the spray to kill lice over his bed, and asks the old man about it, Candy replies with a cryptic, "I don't know." As George persists, Candy measures his words, because he does not want them to leave as he may be accused of running them off. Then, after the boss questions George and Lennie, but Lennie does not speak, he tells George he will be keeping an eye on him. As Candy appears, George accuses him of eavesdropping, but Candy emphatically denies doing so because he does not want any trouble,
"I didn't hear nothing.... I ain't interested in nothing you way sayin'. A guy on a ranch don't never listen nor he don't ast no questions."
Of course, Candy merely says this to win the trust of George because he fears for his job, and does not wish to alienate himself. After Curley enters the bunkhouse and insults Lennie when Lennie does not answer him, George asks Candy what is wrong with Curley. Again Candy is cautious; he looks at the door to be sure no one is listening before he answers. Trusting George, Curley confides,
"That the boss's son....Curley's pretty handy. he done quite a bit in the ring. he's lightweight, and he's handy....He hates big guys. he's alla time picking scraps with big guys kind of like he's mad at 'em because he ain't a big guy."
Lonely for companionship, Curley confides even further in George, telling him about Curley's wife, but asking him to keep his words in confidence. George promises.
Sociable, Candy is, nevertheless, intimidated by others. In his loneliness, he has only the company of his old dog. But Carlson, who complains that the dog smells, offers to shoot it with a kruger. Candy cannot endure the idea of getting rid of his old sheep dog that he has had since he was a pup. He says "proudly,"
"you wouldn[t think it to look at him now, but he was the best damn sheep dog I ever seen.
Candy looked a long time at Slim to try to find some reversal. And Slim gave him none. At last Candy said softly and hopelessly, "Awright--take'im.' He did not look down at the dog at all....and stared at the ceiling.
Bereft of any companionship and love with the death of his beloved old dog; Candy worries that, he, too, may be cast out. When George and Lennie befriend him and allow him to contribute to the dream of a ranch of their own, Candy is renewed and feels befriended. He feels empowered and scolds Curley's wife when she comes around, knowing she threatens the men's friendships. After she is dead, Candy knows that the dream, too, is dead. He looks "helplessly back at Curley's wife,"
"you --- --- tramp," he said viciously. "You done it, di'n't you? I s'pose you're glad. Ever'body knowed you'd mess things up. You wasn't no good."