Lennie Small, a character who should be treated with a gentle kindness due to his mental challenges in this novel, is instead looked upon by society with scorn and ridicule.
His closest companion is George, who both takes care of him at times and verbally berates him. Consider the following exchange:
"You remember about us goin’ in to Murray and Ready’s, and they give us work cards and bus tickets?”
“Oh, sure, George. I remember that now.” His hands went quickly into his side coat pockets. He said gently, “George . . . I ain’t got mine. I musta lost it.”
He looked down at the ground in despair.
“You never had none, you crazy bastard. I got both of ‘em here. Think I’d let you carry your own work card?”
Lennie grinned with relief. “I . . . I thought I put it in my side pocket.” His hand went into the pocket again.
Lennie looks to George for leadership and an understanding of the world which he himself lacks. He trusts George, which is why his death is all the more tragic. George reflects on their younger days together, further illustrating Lennie's blind faith in him:
"If I tol’ him to walk over a cliff, over he’d go. That wasn’t so damn much fun after a while. He never got mad about it, neither. I’ve beat the hell outa him, and he coulda bust every bone in my body jus’ with his han’s, but he never lifted a finger against me.” George’s voice was taking on the tone of confession. “Tell you what made me stop that. One day a bunch of guys was standin’ around up on the Sacramento River. I was feelin’ pretty smart. I turns to Lennie and says, ‘Jump in.’ An’ he jumps. Couldn’t swim a stroke. He damn near drowned before we could get him. An’ he was so damn nice to me for pullin’ him out. Clean forgot I told him to jump in."
Although George may not directly put Lennie in harm's way after this accident, he doesn't really treat him with kindness or compassion, either. This lack of understanding assaults Lennie from every angle of society. When Curly attacks him, Lennie tries to avoid retaliation, only doing so because George commands it and then miserably repentant of any pain he's caused as he stands with blood on his own face from being attacked.
The only acceptance he seems to find is in comforting small animals, so he craves this sense of relief. When Curly's wife calls him "nuts" and then offers to allow him to pet her hair, Lennie is placed in a situation which he doesn't understand and without his typical means of interpreting the world around him: George.
The world does not understand Lennie's childlike wonder of the world and his inability to reason or predict consequences for his behavior. His entire existence is marked by hostility, anger, and derogatory comments, devoid of acceptance or compassion.