At the end of Of Mice and Men, to what extent is George prtrayed as a character to be pitied?sympathetic sorrow

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Certainly, John Steinbeck's portrayal of the dispossessed men during the Great Depression who become "bindle stiffs" that are transient workers, bereft of family and friends is poignant.  Against this terrible alienation and aloneness, friendship and fraternity is the only solace that these men have. When George Milton is faced with the dilemma of watching his childlike friend condemned to a life in prison, he cannot bear to think of Lennie caged and confined to such a desperate existence.  For, Lennie has always been the one who has offered hope as the keeper of the dream of owning a ranch. 

When Lennie accidentally kills Curley's wife, the pure of heart George, who has promised Lennie's aunt that he will protect Lennie, feels ultimately responsible.  Therefore, he takes the responsibility of preventing Lennie from suffering the consequences of his inadvertent act by putting Lennie out of future misery.  Doing so is a courageous, but terrible act.  For, George will always feel guilty about Lennie's having been left alone while he went to town, and he will recriminate himself for his act of ending Lennie's life that also ends any hope for his future. 

George shivered and looked at the gun, and then he threw it from him, back up on the bank, near the pile of old ashes.

Truly, George's fate is a pitiable one, and the reader cannot but feel a sympathetic sorrow for him who has lost a good friend in his despair of an end to his terrible aloneness in an uncaring world. Indeed, the last stanza of Robert Burns's poem from which Steinbeck took the title of his novella could easily be uttered by the lonely and despairing George,

Still you are blest, compared with me!
The present only touches you:
But oh! I backward cast my eye,
On prospects dreary!
And forward, though I cannot see,
I guess and fear