Lennie can be described as having animalistic qualities.
Early in the book, Lennie is depicted as "dragging his feet a little, the way a bear drags his paws." At the end of the novel when Lennie returns to the glen to wait for George, he "came as silently as a creeping bear moves."
There are numerous references in the text that connect Lennie to the animal world, perhaps suggesting that Lennie is unsophisticated to such an extent that he is not actually "civilized." In this way, if we cannot excuse his behavior, we can at least explain why he would act so violently and unthinkingly.
When Lennie projects in a hallucinatory fashion at the novel's end, he imagines that he is speaking to a gigantic rabbit, further establishing an unconscious or subconscious connection between Lennie and the world of nature.
But, what does it mean that Lennie is repeatedly associated with nature? For me, this motif suggests that there is more nuance in Lennie's character than it is convenient to recognize.
"Lennie Small, a simple-minded man of great size and strength" (eNotes).
While we can accurately summarize Lennie's character in the novel in this way, the connections between Lennie and nature imply that this shambling and shy giant serves a greater role somehow than that of the simple-minded brute.
He is a cipher, of sorts, an irreducible figure that cannot be explained via the common and ideologically imbued rhetoric of society. His actions are not conventionally moral or immoral. It is almost as if Lennie stands in as a symbol of nature - not man's nature but Nature itself - and while George attempts to protect and befriend Lennie, the connection between the two cannot be maintained.
To participate in the life of the society (keeping a job and having a social life), George cannot also keep living alongside Lennie.
Of course, this is only one way to interpret Lennie's character - one way among many. The idea here is simply to suggest that Lennie, in his animalism, is not reduced to simple-mindedness. His mind-set, rather, is something to be reckoned with and may be a more complex statement from Steinbeck than is commonly or easily understood.
Lennie might be described as;
- simple: Lennie has a very plain outlook and mentality, although this is largely a euphemism for his lack of intellectual development.
- physically large: This is Lennie's main asset in finding work.
- childlike: Lennie doesn't really understand things from an adult perspective, particularly the idea of what can and cannot be done in an adult context (like grabbing women's dresses)
- tactile: Lennie enjoys textures and the sense of touch; this is why he is enamoured of women's hair, as well as the rabbits he wants to tend.
- unlucky: Lennie simply cannot take care of himself and seems to bring misfortune to anyone he crosses paths with.
- loyal: Lennie maintains absolute faith and trust in George throughout the story, which is what makes George's execution that much more bitter.
In Of Mice and Men, Lennie is a physically strong man who has limited mental development. He has a child-like personality because he is mentally challenged. He imitates child-like behaviors. He is fascinated with soft textures. He loves to pet the fur of soft animals. He dreams of owning his own rabbits one day for the purpose of petting them anytime he so desires.
Lennie is a hard worker. Due to his physical strength, he is able to endure physical challenges. He can work harder and longer than most ranchers can.
For this reason, he is able to get a job easily. His problem is in keeping that job. He seems to always mess it up by his poor decision-making skills. He does not realize that he is doing anything wrong when he reaches out to touch the texture of a girl's dress. He grabs it and will not let go. Other people mistake Lennie's obsession with soft materials as threatening. Lennie is on the run to keep others from harming him.
George becomes Lennie's caretaker after Lennie's aunt passes away. Lennie is dependent upon George just as much as a child is dependent upon a parent. Lennie cannot make adult decisions. In fact, he does not even realize his own strength. He would never have hurt Curly if George had not given him permission. Also, he never meant to kill Curly's wife. He only meant to silence her so she would not scream. Lennie is an innocent character.
George's companion, the source of the novel's conflict. Lennie, enormous, ungainly, and mentally slow, is George's polar opposite both mentally and physically. Lennie's ignorance and innocence and helplessness, his childish actions, such as his desire to pet soft things, contrast his physical bulk, making him likeable to readers. Although devoid of cruel intentions, Lennie's stupidity and carelessness cause him to unwittingly harm animals and people, which creates trouble for both him and George. Lennie is tirelessly devoted to George and delights in hearing him tell of the dream of having a farm, but he does not desire the dream of the American worker in the same way that George does. His understanding of George's dream is more childish and he grows excited at the possibility of tending the future rabbits, most likely because it will afford him a chance to pet their soft hides as much as he wishes. Nevertheless, a dream is a dream, different for everyone, and George and Lennie share the similar attribute of desiring what they haven't got. Lennie, however, is helpless to attain his dream, and remains a static character throughout, relying on George to fuel is hope and save him from trouble.
- Mentally Slow
Lennie is unaware of his own strength. He is a simple man with shortcomings that he is unable to control. Lennie’s heart is kind and his intentions are good. Below are some words and qualities that describe Lennie: