With the theme of Alienation central to John Steinbeck's novella set in the Great Depression, Curley and Slim are among the men who experience a certain aloneness. As the son of the boss, Curley is automatically isolated from the ranch hands who feel that they cannot associate with management, and while Slim is the mule skinner and in a position of some authority, he, too, is somewhat set apart.
Judging from what old Candy tells George and Lennie in Chapter One that the boss has been looking for them since the previous day,he has little problem maintaining his social order. However, Curley seems to suffer from a couple of psychological problems. Like his father, he wears heeled boots, but evidently the similarity ends there. His small stature has given him the stereotypical short man complex, and he feels that he must assert himself at every turn:
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. Kind of like he's mad at 'em ecause he ain't a big guy....
Added to his problems is the fact that he has an attractive wife, the only one around, and, as Candy notes, "she got the eye."
A superior worker who possesses great skill and craftmanship, Slim is kind and perceptive. With his "God-like eyes" and his ear that
heard more than is said to him, and his slow speech had overtones, not of thought, but of understanding beyond thought.
With such sterling qualities, Slim is clearly set apart from the other ranchhands, who, in their pettiness experience some envy and fear of him.