CURLEY AND LENNIE
Steinbeck was very good at understanding and depicting human character as well as writing dialogue and dialect. After Curley's first confrontation with Lennie in the bunkhouse, George asks Candy why Curley became so hostile for no apparent reason. Candy replies:
"Well . . . tell you what. Curley's like a lot of little guys. He hates big guys. He's alla time picking scraps with big guys."
Obviously Curley suffers from an inferiority complex, and he does everything possible to hide it and overcompensate for it. When he first sees Lennie, he clenches his fists and gives him a look "at once calculating and pugnacious." Lennie is frightened--but only because George has warned him to stay out of trouble.
Later when Curley comes to the bunkhouse looking for his wife he gets into an argument with Slim, Carlson and Candy, who all laugh at him and ridicule him for not being able to control the flirtatious young girl. He gets the false idea that Lennie is also laughing at him and begins hitting him in the face. Finally George urges him to fight back, and he seizes Curley's hand and mangles it.
This is one of the only physical conflicts in the book. The other occurs in the barn when Lennie accidentally kills Curley's wife, who is struggling to get away from him. The other conflicts are verbal exchanges between the various characters. This is because Steinbeck planned to adapt his novella to a stage play and realized he would have to rely heavily on dialogue in the story unless he was willing to make radical changes in the play. Most plays rely on the spoken word because action does not look realistic on a stage. There is a lot of quarreling in the novella, but it doesn't escalate to physical violence.
The eNotes Introduction to Steinbeck's novella explains how the author was thinking about a work of dramatic fiction and a stage play at the same time. Both the book and the play came out in the same depression year of 1937.