Prevalent throughout Steinbeck's nouvella, Of Mice and Men, is the trope of men as powerless in a naturalistic, indifferent world. For instance, the opening and final scenes of the pond scene is unchanged and unmoved by the tragic events involving Lennie and George. That these men are powerless in their world is also evinced in Chapters 3 and 4.
In a Darwinian situation in the bunkhouse, Candy is helpless against the stronger force of Whitson who wishes to be rid of the weakened and useless old dog of the swamper. Candy appeals to the skinner, Slim because "Slim's opinions were law." Figuratively describing Candy's defeat, Steinbeck writes,
His sloping shoulders were bent forward heavily on his heels, as though he carred the invisible grain bag.
Powerless, Candy "looked a long time at Slim to try to find some reversal." Of course, the old dog is symbolic of Candy himself who has outlived his usefulness, and later is given metaphoric meaning for Lennie who is also done away with because he can no longer live in such a naturalistic world.
As an example of the alienation of the men, George talks with Slim, yet he continues to "stack the scattered cards and...lay out his solitaire hand." (The word solitaire is repeated two more times in this chapter.) However, as his friendship develops with Slim, who has "god-like eyes," George's hands "stopped working with the cards" as he includes Lennie in this fraternity of men with the description of his and Lennie's plans to have a little farm, which is itself a metaphor for their relationship of the spirit.
Their reverie, however, is interrupted by another negative force, that of the hostile and pugnacious Curley, who represents figuratively the meanness that enters those who are alienated from the community of men. Despite his aggressiveness, he is rendered powerless by the brute, animal (naturalistic/Darwinian) strength of Lennie.
The introduction of Crooks as a character adds to the theme of powerlessness as the black hostler is further alienated because of his race. Steinbeck's reference to the town of Soledad, Spanish for solitude, also reinforces the isolation of Crooks in a symbolic way.
As Lennie is too naive to understand the import of the words of Crooks, he continues to talk to the lonely stable buck who at first enjoys his superiority to the big man and taunts him with images of George's not returning from Soledad, but finally opens up and expresses his own powerlessness and alienationin a metaphor:
A guy needs somebody--to be near him...He got nothing to measure [himself] by.
With a power of a sexual nature, Curley'swife then appears and Lennie is entranced. When Candy tries to intimidate her, she retorts with vituperation "reduc[ing] Crooks to nothing" as she tells him she could get him hanged by suggesting that he made advances toward her. Then, when Candy tells her that he and Lennie would testify against her, she exerts more superiority,
"Nobody'd listen to you an' you know it. Nobody'd listen to you."
Powerless, Candy is silenced and Crooks retreats to his bed, rubbing his neck.
Clearly, it is a naturalistic world in which the "bindle stiffs" exist in their isolation as they struggle to find a place for themselves that has meaning.