This question was just asked in the q-and-a venue, and I wasn't sure the general question of "Am I my brother's keeper" applies to Of Mice and Men. My point is I don't think George's relationship with Lennie is an issue of his feeling obligated to take care of Lennie, his fellow man. So, I told the asker of this philosophical question I would bring it here for all of you to add your pearls of wisdom. Who wants to cast the first pearl? (Oops--here goes Ms. Malaprop again!)
The story of George and Lennie lends itself to issues found in the question "Am I my brother keeper?" Does man have an obligation to take care of a fellow man, and what is the price a person pays for this?
I agree with the posts above. The question of George's responsibility for Lennie and how killing Lennie fits into this responsibility is quite complicated and this complexity is probably one reason the book remains so popular and compelling today.
Many of the social issues in this book remain resonant even as they have been dealt with in our public and political forums, but the idea of one person's responsibility for another has not been decided and probably never will be.
There is an emphasis on choice here but the ethics of the choice don't match the morals of it. In other words, George has no legal obligation to babysit Lennie but he has accepted the moral obligation to do so.
To me, this means that, yes, George is responsible for Lennie and for Lennie's criminal act(s) and George is bound to atone in some way for what Lennie has done. George is his brother's keeper, because he has made the choice already. He has stated his position and agreed to take care of Lennie.
I believe that question is why this story remains so powerful. If anyone was in a position to ignore his brother, it was George. Here is a man competing with hundreds of other men in order to fill menial labor jobs. Considering it was tough for one man to get a job, it would have certainly been near impossible for two men to get jobs at the same farm. Not only does George accept that challenge, he continues to stick by Lenny even after the get fired, threatened, and chased off of ranches. In my opinion, George's willingness to stick with Lenny isn't obligation, just love. I don't believe those two work hand in hand. Obligation suggests doing something because you're bound to it or to show gratitude for something else. By that meaning, it is Lenny who is obligated to stick with George, not vice versa. So I would say that no, man isn't obligated to watch over fellow man simply because that's what we do. Man watches over fellow man because of the love and respect we earn and give in various relationships.
**As I re-read what I typed, I realize that I may sound like I only believe we help each other if help is earned. That's not entirely the case. We don't let fellow man get hit by a car if we can help it just because fellow man is a stranger. What I'm saying is that man's nature tends to lean toward helping "me" before "you". That's why I say George acts out of love, not obligation.
While I agree with you, clane, that the scope of the obligation has shrunk over the past 50 years, I do believe that the heart of the idea lives on. Consider every family fight that will occur over the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday. So often, we as humans become so concerned about the well-being of our loved ones, that we tend towards condescension and over-protections. We judge their decisions because we feel we know what is right for them, that we are better informed. I would argue that love, in any form, naturally carries with it a sense of obligation.
This is a good question- a real thinker. I think that sense of obligation has begun to fade in the past 50 years or so. It's safe to assume that a person reading this book in 1937 when it was originally published would agree that George had an obligation to take care of Lenny and the price that George paid to bear the burden was great. That is not to say that his relationship with Lenny wasn't rewarding in some aspects because it was- they had a very unique and caring relationship that ran deep.
I think this question posed today really depends on a person's sense of moral obligation to help others. There are certainly degrees of moral obligation in American culture today so it's difficult to say with any certainty how far reaching an obligation would go. For example, I'm not sure that everyone in George's situation would have taken Lenny under his wing and agreed to look after him. The price you pay is big. I mean taking care of a Lenny in today's society would mean giving up a lot for a lot of people so the decision might be more difficult to make.
Great Post! I would love to hear what others think about this.