George and Lennie are both "free," in the sense that they move about the country at will, traveling wherever they choose. They are not really free, however, in that they are trapped by their poverty, homelessness, and lack of education. They lack the economic freedom to determine their own lives, always depending upon whatever work they can find as itinerant farm hands in order to survive. Both are hard workers. Lennie's mental capacities are very limited, but he is physically strong and willing to do his share. According to George, Lennie is a good hand:
He's a good skinner. He can rassel grain bags, drive a cultivator. He can do anything . . . . He can put up a four hundred pound bale.
In their friendship, each man cares for the other and values their relationship. They are united by their dream and their need for each other in facing the loneliness of their lives. When George goes through his familiar recitation of how their lives are different from those of other men on the road who have nobody who "gives a damn," Lennie chimes in with his part:
But not us! An' why? Because . . . because I got you to look after me, and you got me to look after you, and that's why.
In this friendship, George must assume all responsibility for the two of them, finding their jobs, dealing with those around them, and always trying to manage and protect Lennie, with his mental deficiencies. Understanding how much power he exercises over Lennie and how much Lennie trusts him, George takes his responsibility for Lennie very seriously. He does his best to take care of Lennie, just as he had promised Lennie's Aunt Clara. When Lennie speaks of going off by himself, George responds quickly:
I want you to stay with me, Lennie. Jesus Christ, somebody'd shoot you for a coyote if you was by yourself. No, you stay with me. Your Aunt Clara wouldn't like you running off by yourself, even if she is dead.
The severest test of George's responsibility for Lennie occurs in the novel's conclusion. George shoots his friend in a humane manner to spare him the fear and pain of the horrible death that will soon overtake him.