Steinbeck uses other characters’ descriptions of Curley’s wife and things she does and says to characterize her. She does not have a name. The fact that she talks to Lennie shows that she is lonely.
Many of the characters in the story are outcasts in some way. Curley’s wife is marginalized because she seems to be one of the few women on the ranch and because she is pretty.
When George and Lennie arrive at the ranch, Curley has just been married “a couple of weeks” and his wife lives “in the boss's house” (ch 2). She is never given a name, so her identity is linked with his. Most of the men think she’s a flirt or worse, and they do not respect her.
Everyone tells George that Curley’s wife is “purty” but “she got the eye,” meaning she has a wandering eye for other men. Candy even calls her a “tart” (ch 2). Whit describes her to George.
"She ain't concealin' nothing. I never seen nobody like her. She got the eye goin' all the time on everybody. I bet she even gives the stable buck the eye. I don't know what the hell she wants." (ch 3)
George asks if there is any trouble since she has been there. Clearly, he expects it. Curley’s wife is lonely and has no friends on the ranch. She spends all her time looking for him, because it gives her an excuse to talk to other people. Curley will get mad if anyone talks to or looks at his wife.
Curley’s wife is good looking, and she does care about how she looks. She is described as “heavily made up” and she wears red nail polish (ch 2). She seems flirtatious.
She wore her bright cotton dress and the mules with the red ostrich feathers. Her face was made up and the little sausage curls were all in place. (ch 5)
She tries to talk to Lennie, and console him when his pup dies. When he says George doesn’t want her to, she gets mad.
"Wha's the matter with me?" she cried. "Ain't I got a right to talk to nobody? Whatta they think I am, anyways? You're a nice guy. I don't know why I can't talk to you. I ain't doin' no harm to you." (ch 5)
Clearly she does not get to talk to many people. Since Lennie is slow, she does not feel threatened by him. He’s also alone, so she feels like she can talk to him, and “her words tumbled out in a passion of communication” because she so rarely gets to talk to anyone. She tells Lennie how she met an actor who said she could be in a show. She had dreams too.
Unfortunately, Curley's wife's dreams are ended when Lennie tries to touch her hair, and accidentally kills her too.