When Lennie (one of the two protagonists in Steinbeck's novel Of Mice and Men) becomes aware that George may have a better life without having to take care of him he offers to go off, find a cave, and live in the cave. George responds, initially, by questioning Lennie's ability to take care of himself.
"Yeah? How'd you eat? You ain't got sense enough to find nothing to eat."
After this, Lennie replies that he would be able to live on his own. He would find things to eat. He also states that he would be able to find a mouse, that he could pet, and no one would be able to take it away from him.
George, suddenly realizing his tone, follows up Lennie's rebuttal with the following:
George looked quickly and searchingly at him. "I been mean, ain't I?"
Lennie proceeds to tell George that he could leave at any time if George does not want him around.
Here, George tells Lennie that he does not want him to leave at all:
"No- look! I was jus' foolin', Lennie. 'Cause I want you to stay with me."
In the end, George realizes that what he has said has hurt Lennie's feelings and that he needs to directly tell him that he wants Lennie to stay with him.
In Chapter 1 of Steinbeck's novella Of Mice and Men, George Milton and Lennie Small enter a clearing where they camp for the night. As they sit by the fire and eat their meager meal, an argument ensues.
Having been "run out" of the town of Weed because Lennie frightened a girl, George and Lennie camp out in the clearing before starting a new job the next day. Exasperated already with Lennie because of what has occurred in Weed, George is easily angered when he catches Lennie with a dead mouse, and later when Lennie complains about not having ketchup to put on his beans: "I like 'em with ketchup."
Because of the problems that they have recently experienced, a frustrated George lashes out,
"Well, we ain't got any," George exploded. "Whatever we ain't got, that's what you want. God a'mighty, if I was alone I could live so easy. I could go get a job an' work, an' no trouble. No mess at all...All the time somethin' like that--all the time."
However, when George looks across the fire at Lennie's "anguished face," he stares "ashamedly at the flames." Then, he becomes quiet and turns the cans that he heats on the fire, feigning that he does not see Lennie. These acts of George do not go unnoticed by Lennie, who speaks George's name, and tells George that he does not want any ketchup.
George stares "morosely" at the fire, reflecting out loud on how he could have a "swell time" without Lennie, but he gets "no peace." Quietly, Lennie asks his friend if he wants him to go away and leave George alone.
"Where...could you go?"
"Well, I could. I could go off in the hills there. Some place I'd find a cave."
"Yeah? How'd you eat. You ain't got sense enough to find nothing to eat."
As he looks at Lennie, George realizes that he has hurt the man's feelings. "I been mean, ain't I?" he asks. Therefore, George insists that he really wants Lennie to stay with him. One reason he gives is the fact that Lennie cannot live on his own. But he also mentions the camaraderie that they share.