Explore how George and Lennie’s ways of speaking reveal aspects of their characters and relationships in Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men.

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M.P. Ossa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Speaking is not the mere pronunciation of words. It entails meaning, prosody, cadence, timbre, and much more. Choice of words comes from the cognitive and intellectual acumen of each individual. Most discourse is based on previous life experiences that have molded and changed our mentalities throughout time. 

In the case of George and Lennie, we have two men who exteriorize their personalities through the way that they talk to one another. 

George, a man who has been profoundly affected by a number of dire life events, speaks accordingly: he speaks roughly, uses foul language, and he is hard on Lennie, calling him names, and continuously begrudging his circumstances. He expresses himself in a simple, non-intellectual, malformed English, but this composes the circumstances that surrounded him as a man who grew up poor and uneducated.

George exploded. "Whatever we ain't got, that's what you want. God a'mighty, if I was alone I could live so easy. . . . I could take my fifty bucks and go into town and get whatever I want. Why, I could stay in a cat house all night.

However, George will occasionally correct himself and make amends for his harsh words. His speech never detours from being brash, rough, angry, literal and unadorned.

The one time we see George use literary devices is when he tells his vision of living "off the fat of the land," in which he imagines himself and Lennie farming their own farm and enjoying the benefits of it. 

On the other hand, Lennie is actually cognitively challenged. He lacks basic life skills, such as impulse-control, basic understanding, and a decent memory, and, as a result, he has no chance of leading an ordinary life. He speaks with the rudimentary vocabulary that would befit a small child and takes everything literally. His choice of words denotes the fact that he does not have the capability to research more vocabulary in order to sound smarter. 

I'd find things, George. I don't need no nice food with ketchup. I'd lay out in the sun and nobody'd hurt me. An' if I foun' a mouse, I could keep it. Nobody'd take it away from me.

As ranch hands and working men, the language that George and Lennie use shows that this is what they are: simple men who have worked all their lives and have essentially survived life one day after another. They have no time for sophisticated words, or figurative speech. They are down to earth because it is the only way they can live. They are part of the land, and there is no room for poetry or art in their language. They speak how they live; they speak plainly, and they let their emotions become the only thing that can color their otherwise hard and dull lives.

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Of Mice and Men

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