How does George feel his life would be different if he didn’t have to look out for Lennie?Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

While the frustrated and anxious George gumbles in Chapter One to Lennie,

"God a'mighty, if I was alone I could live so easy. I could go get a job an' work, an' no trouble. No mess at all, and when the end of the month come 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. I could eat any place I want, hotel or any place, and order any damn thing I could think of. An' I could do all that every damn month. Get a gallon of whisky, or set in a pool room and play cards or shoot pool."

he later contradicts himself when he describes the men who go around to the "gin joints" and "cat houses" as mean and living a life that is unfulfilling. But, in Chapter One, George is upset with the child-like Lennie's insistence on having something to pet, and his irrational behavior frustrates George who is worried about their new job and what Lennie might do there.

Nevertheless, the truth of the matter is that George and Lennie's relationship is actually symbiotic.  For, at times, the smaller and physically weaker George needs Lennie; in addition, having someone else around affords George someone by whom "he can measure himself by" as Crooks describes the need in man.  Besides, men who are alone seem to return to their baser instincts, becoming hostile to others.  In Chapter Three, George reflects,

"I seen the guys that go around on the ranches alone. That ain’t no good. They don’t have no fun. After a long time they get mean. They get wantin’ to fight all the time."

In other words, George understands that man's alienation brings out his fear and feelings of the necessity to assert himself in the struggle for survival. It is only in the fraternity of men that individuals can feel some security and solace from their "lives of quiet desperation,"as Thoreau wrote, during the Great Depression.  Thus, while George grumbles about Lennie, much as a older brother complains about his sibling, he still cares about Lennie and values having a companion and friend.

The theme of the brotherhood of man as a solution to man's isolation is central to Steinbeck's novella Of Mice and Men.  Once Lennie is gone, George is imprisoned in his own isolation, and the dream is gone.  Before he shoots Lennie, George has his friend recite one final time their "dream":

George shivered and looked at the gun, and then he threw it from him, back up on the bank, near the pile of old ashes. [symbol of death of Lennie and the dream]

Clearly, it is the simple, childish Lennie who keeps alive hope in the heart of George.  For, as George knows, Lennie is the keeper of the dream and the guard against loneliness who drives George's heart to almost believe in a better life.