In John Steinbeck's "Of Mice and Men," how was the use of "dogs" transformed into a literary device?

Expert Answers
mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Steinbeck's novella Of Mice and Men, the dog of Candy and the puppy of Lennie act as symbols as well as figuratively being instruments of foreshadowing.

  • Candy's dog

Once a valuable sheepdog, Candy's old dog has outlived his usefulness as a working dog. Because Candy raised him from a pup, the dog is his friend; nevertheless, the other ranch hands do not view him as other than an old arthritic dog that has an offensive odor. Like the dog, Candy is impaired physically, having lost one hand; and, also like his dog, Candy is old and fears being perceived as useless, too, and cast out: 

"Jus' as soon as I can't swamp out no bunk houses they'll put me on the county."

Certainly, Candy's sense of despair about his dog foreshadows his loss of the dream of dwelling with George and Lennie on a small ranch, as well as his loss of the two men's friendships.

  • Lennie's puppy

The vulnerable puppy who suffers death from the slap of Lennie symbolizes the susceptibility of the weak who suffer at the hands of the strong. Other oppressors are represented as well with Carlson who dominates Candy, Curley's wife who conquers Crooks with racial threats of retaliation, and Carlson and Curley who take after Lennie with guns. In the end, the vulnerable Lennie suffers the same fate as his puppy, too. 

Also like the puppy is Curley's wife who flirts too much with Lennie until his caresses become too strong and, frightened, she screams. When she does this, Lennie overreacts and tries to get her to be silent, inadvertently breaking her neck when she struggles against him. So, he kills another creature he has loved to pet. 
Ironically, Lennie's own words about his puppy foreshadow his future actions with Curley's wife. When he describes to Curley's wife what occurred with the puppy, he says,

"He was so little.....I was jus' playin' with' he made like he's gonna bit me,'''an' I made like I was gonna smack'' I done it. An' then he was dead."

This action is similarly repeated when Lennie pets Curley's wife's hair. When his strength is felt too much, she becomes frightened and starts to squirm. Lennie tightens his grip in fear, but she becomes terrified and starts to scream; then, Lennie tries to restrain her from screaming and accidentally breaks her neck. This action also foreshadows Lennie's death.