How does Steinbeck present the relationship between Lennie and Crooks in Of Mice and Men?

In Of Mice and Men, Steinbeck presents the relationship between Lennie and Crooks as that of two outsiders who get along. Mutual loneliness draws them together on an afternoon when George is gone. Lennie's learning difficulties make it so that he doesn't really understand what racism is, and he accepts Crooks as a fellow human.

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Steinbeck presents the relationship between Lennie and Crooks as a rare example of interaction between a white man and a black man that doesn't involve racism and repression. Lennie's severe learning difficulties mean that he doesn't really understand what racism is, and so he has no problem with spending time in the company of Crooks, who's segregated from the other men at the ranch on account of his skin color.

At the same time, in the figure of Lennie, Crooks is presented with a rare opportunity to talk back to a white man without the threat of any serious repercussions. We see this when he taunts Lennie about relying on George to look after him. Crooks gleefully peppers Lennie with a string of hypothetical questions: What would Lennie do if George didn't come back? What if he got injured and died?

Lennie doesn't understand the nature of hypothetical questions and so quickly starts to lose it. Sensing he's in imminent danger, Crooks calms the big guy down by telling him that George is okay. But he then goes on to say that at least now Lennie knows what it's like to feel all alone in the world. Through his taunting of Lennie, Crooks has given him an insight into what it's like to be the only black man on the ranch.

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Crooks, who has been made bitter by the racism he experiences from the other ranch hands, is at first standoffish toward Lennie, who shows up in his room by the stable when most of the other ranch hands, including George, have gone to town.

Crooks tells Lennie to go away because his room is his own space, and Lennie is not wanted there. Then he perceives Lennie's open-hearted friendliness and gives in:

Crooks scowled, but Lennie’s disarming smile defeated him. “Come on in and set a while."

Crooks frightens Lennie with talk of George not coming back, then softens when he realizes how alarmed Lennie is becoming. Crooks's talk had a point: Crooks emphasizes that Lennie has someone to depend on, whereas he, Crooks, is all alone. Lennie tells him about the dream of owning a small farm. Crooks at first is very interested but then bitter reality sets in that he would not be accepted there.

Lennie and Crooks are presented as two outsiders, each damaged in his own way, who nevertheless get along because they don't present a threat to each other. Crooks can relax around Lennie and enjoy being able to alleviate his loneliness. Lennie accepts Crooks as he is, as a fellow human, because he does not know enough to be racially prejudiced. One can imagine the two having a friendly relationship in a different, better world.

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Lennie and Crooks have an interesting relationship because they do not adhere to societal norms. Because Crooks is the only black man on the ranch, he has his own living quarters. He has a good working relationship with the men, but it does not go much further beyond that. He is not a part of their card games and does not go to the "saloon" with them.

In Chapter 4, when all of the men have left, only Crooks and Lennie have been left behind because they do not quite fit in with the group of men. Lennie wanders into Crooks' living quarters, simply because he is lonely and doesn't have anyone else to talk to. He has no idea that white people do not just "hang out" in Crooks' room for no reason. Crooks' initial reaction is to distrust Lennie. He tries to explain to Lennie that he has no place being there, but Lennie doesn't understand, so he continues to stay and ramble to Crooks. Eventually, Crooks softens and invites Lennie to come in and sit.

Crooks and Lennie are brought together by their loneliness, and this is perhaps their only common bond. Their conversation in Crooks' bunkhouse takes a bit of a sour note when Crooks asks Lennie to consider whether George might just take off and leave him there, which upsets Lennie. Most likely, Crooks was not trying to upset Lennie. He brings this issue up because he is projecting his own loneliness and bitter views of the world to Lennie. He believs that each man is out for himself, and for a moment wonders why George would not be the same.

For a moment, Crooks is allowed to have some hope for his life during his conversation with Lennie in his room. Until this point, he has accepted his place in society as a black man who can do nothing but keep to himself and do his job. When he talks to Lennie, Candy walks into the room and they begin discussing their dreams for the future. Crooks, getting caught up in the fantasy and forgetting his place, asks if he can join their plan. He is able to believe it can happen only briefly, because soon Curley's wife walks in and tells him his place.

Loneliness and the desire for a place to call home are the two things that bring Crooks and Lennie together, if only for a moment. Lennie's blindness to racial inequalities allows him to open up to Crooks, and Crooks' desire for someone to talk to allows him to open up to Lennie. Though this bond is short-lived, it is a significant event in the novel because it highlights the loneliness of ranch life and shows that though all men had dreams, these dreams were not always realistic.

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