In the setting of the 1920s, there are two divisions of power: socio-economic and racial.
- Socio-economic power
In Chapter One, as George and Lennie make camp in the clearing, their talk is about one day owning a farm and the fact that they have another to care about them:
"We got somebody to talk to that gives a damn about us. We don't have to sit in no bar room...because we got no place else to go....
"O.K. Someday--we're gonna get the jacktogether and we're gonna have a little house and a couple of acres an' a cow and some pigs and--..."
This concept of fraternity and community ownership are central to Steinbeck's socialism which he purports in his narrative as solutions to the alienation of workers in California.
The bosses wield power because of their economic prowess. For, Curley comes around the other men, who say little in response to his aggressive words simply because he is the son of the boss. Taking advantage of her social position, Curley's wife flirts and taunts the men, knowing that they must be polite to her because of who she is.
- Racial power
Crooks, the black stable mate, is ostracized from the other ranch workers because of his color. Marginalized in this manner, Crooks reads and occupies himself alone when not working. In Chapter Five, however, when he tells Curley's wife that she cannot enter the barn near his quarters, she issues orders to Crooks, instead, and threatens him, as well.
"You got no rights comin' is a colored man's room...I'm gonna ast the boss not toever let you come in the barn no more.
She turned on him in scorn. "...You know what I can do to you if you open your trap?"
Crooks stared hopelessly at her, and then he sat down on his bunk and drew into himself."
Crooks is so intimidated by this confrontation that he withdraws his name from wishing to join the others on a farm.