How does John Steinbeck use various characters to help develop the major conflict in "Of Mice and Men"?

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Susan Woodward eNotes educator| Certified Educator

A major conflict in this novel could be loneliness.  Steinbeck uses Candy, Curley's wife, Crooks, and Curley to demonstrate this theme.  

Candy is lonely because his dog that he'd raised from a pup had to be put down.  He didn't have the courage to do what was right for the suffering dog, and so Carlson shot it in the back of the head.  This situation foreshadows what George must do to Lennie, which leads to his loneliness without his friend.

Curley's wife is lonely because she has no one to talk to.  She is the only woman on the ranch, and since her husband is so jealous and mean, she is not allowed to talk to anyone else.  Although the men call her a tart, there is no evidence that she behaves badly.  She desires attention, and so she tries to make herself attractive, but her actions are misinterpreted.

Crooks is the only black man on the ranch, and he is crippled.  For him, he has a double whammy.  The other men make him sleep in the stable with the horses, and he is not even allowed in the bunkhouse to play cards.

Curley is mean spirited and vengeful.  A small man, he was probably picked on as a boy, and so ended up becoming a bully in order to boost his self esteem.  Why else would a grown man wear a glove filled with vasoline unless he was trying to show off to the others that he had something they didn't.  Ironically, Curley and his wife always seemed to be looking for each other.