When George and Lennie arrive at the ranch, it soon becomes apparent to the other ranch hands that Lennie has an intellectual disability. George explains to Slim how the two of them function as a team and that he learned to become Lennie’s protector after formerly participating in mocking him as others did. Lennie’s extreme physical strength and his lack of awareness of its effect are among the things that set him apart. When Slim inquires in to the reasons the two men travel together, he gives voices to what the others have probably thought. Lennie’s intellectual disability is often interpreted as mental illness. George quickly corrects him.
“It jus’ seems kinda funny a cuckoo like him and a smart little guy like you travelin’ together.”
“He ain’t no cuckoo,” said George. “He’s dumb as hell, but he ain’t crazy.”
After Lenny injures Curley’s hand, the others develop a wary attitude. Candy recalls George’s warning from earlier in the day, saying,
Right this morning when Curley first lit into your fren’ you says, ‘He better not fool with Lennie if he knows what’s good for ’um.’ That’s jus’ what you says to me.
The others go into town for the night, but Lennie is left behind because George fears that he will get into more trouble. He seeks the company of Crooks, who is marginalized because he is black. Crooks tells Lennie to get out of his room; he does not want his company and says that he should go back to the bunkhouse.
“I ain’t wanted in the bunk house, and you ain’t wanted in my room.”
“Why ain’t you wanted?” Lennie asked.
“’Cause I’m black. They play cards in there, but I can’t play because I’m black….”
Lennie flapped his big hands helplessly.
“Ever’body went into town,” he said. “Slim an’ George an’ ever’body. George says I gotta stay here an’ not get in no trouble.”
When he tries to explain to Crooks that he had been in the barn to see his puppy, the older man once again tries to send him away.
“Well, go see your pup, then. Don’t come in a place where you’re not wanted.”