Explore the significance of outsiders in the novel 'Of Mice and Men'; consider the context of the novel and provide quotes in support of the significance.

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The idea of the outsider is very important in Of Mice and Men.  The outsider concept is very significant in the novel.  George and Lennie fight it, while all of the ranch hands live it.  Outsiders abound from Candy, who is an outsider because of his age and physical condition, to Crooks, who finds himself to be an outsider due to race. 

Much of the novella is about the outsider in American society.  It is defined by people who exist on the margins of society and who have next-to-no significant power, influence or importance.  The Great Depression helped to make millions of Americans live as outsiders, without economic, political, or social power. The migrant lifestyle George and Lennie experience is one of the best examples of the outsider because they have no larger, stable social and economic group that they are part of: the only group they are part of is the marginalized, powerless, drifting laboring group.  They move from ranch to ranch and hope to find work.   When the work is gone, so are they.  Steinbeck captures the feeling of being a drifting outsider when describing the bunkhouse  in Chapter 2.  He describes signs of transient of life that are representative of the outsider since nothing reflects permanence.

George and Lennie understand what it's like to be passing through society without belonging and to not have anyone or anything to hold to.  Part of the familiar story that George tells Lennie concerns what it is like to be an outsider:

“Guys like us, that work on ranches, are the loneliest guys in the world. They got no fambly. They don’t belong no place. They come to a ranch an’ work up a stake and then they go into town and blow their stake, and the first thing you know they’re poundin’ their tail on some other ranch. They ain’t got nothing to look ahead to.”

George's story captures the importance of the outsider in Of Mice and Men.  The ranch hands live the life of one who has "got no fambly" and "don't belong to no place."  When Lennie exclaims to George that he must "tell about us," George speaks to the dreams of both men:

With us it ain’t like that. We got a future. We got somebody to talk to that gives a damn about us. We don’t have to sit-in no bar room blowin’ in our jack jus’ because we got no place else to go. If them other guys gets in jail they can rot for all anybody gives a damn. But not us.

George and Lennie want to break the reality of the outsider.  They seek to build a "future" and to belong where there is "somebody to talk to that gives a damn about us."  It is for this reason that Lennie interjects "because I got you to look after me, and you got me to look after you, and that’s why.” 

Even ranch hands like Bill Tenner are outsiders because they work and then move on, only to be heard of in some random letter to a magazine read with joy by another outsider, namely Whit.  The young ranch hand is excited to see someone he knows in print.  The fact that an isolated letter would bring meaning to Whit's life reflects the extent to which he is an outsider.  Steinbeck writes a novella where the main characters are outsiders in the hopes of, just for a moment, bringing them from out to in, from margin to center.