John Steinbeck’s writing often brought to life characters that struggled in life—the downtrodden. Written during the depression, Of Mice and Men portrayed life for migrant workers in the area of
Salinas, California. Lennie Small and George Milton fight for their dreams with little chance of them coming to fruition.
When the story begins, Lennie and George have been together for a long time. In fact, during the course of one of their conversations, the reader learns that they were in school together. Lennie is cared for by his aunt, and George stays with them. When the aunt dies, she asks George to look after Lennie. Even though the task is burdensome, George shelters and cares for Lennie.
Steinbeck cleverly names his characters: Lennie Small has the strength of ten men with his overwhelming size. His smallness comes from his mental slowness…his limitations make him dangerous. When he finds himself in a situation that he does not understand, Lennie reacts which usually gets both George and him in trouble.
George is everything to Lennie---father-figure; protector; friend; provider; and savior. Unable to make decisions on his own, Lennie depends entirely on George. His bane comes from his wanting to pet soft things which often ends in the death of an animal or the screams of a woman.
Interestingly, Lennie might be compared to a pet dog that gives his ultimate loyalty to George. Whatever George tells Lennie, Lennie remembers. Other things slip from his memory. Without George, Lennie would be unable to survive. His size, his anger, and his retardation spell ultimate doom.
George Milton relies on his wits to find places for him and Lennie to survive. Through George, two important ideas are conveyed in the story: companionship and hope. As Lennie’s protector, George must spend most of his time watching out for figurative traps that Lennie might fall into and hurt others or himself.
His place in the story is keeping Lennie in tow. There are always obstacles in the way. A girl’s scream, Curley’s wife, Curley, a puppy---all of these incidences work to make it impossible for the pair’s dreams to happen.
Their relationship centers on the dream they share:
“Guys like us that work on ranches, are the loneliest guy in the world. They got no family. They don’t belong no place…With us it ain,t like that. We got a future. We got somebody to talk to that gives a damn about us…”
What they have is each other!
The most important lesson in the story is the friendship that this unlikely pair shares. As George tells Lennie over and over they are different because they have each other.
When Lennie commits his final crime, George knows that there is no way to fix this for Lennie. He also knows that Curley will make Lennie suffer. Furthermore, Lennie would never be able to survive prison; with execution facing him, Lennie would never understand why he could not be George.
George has only one choice: he must end the tragedy with his love for Lennie by taking care of the situation himself. With Lennie looking into the distance and imagining their farm and the rabbits that he would tend, George kills Lennie with a bullet to his brain.
Afterwards, George is free to do whatever he wants. The reader, however, knows that George is now just one of the many lonely guys who will walk through life wishing that he had someone to love and communicate.