Orlick has a nasty disposition. There is nobody he likes. He and Mrs. Joe have a lot in common. They both have mean, hostile characters. Orlick sees his own faults in her, and no doubt she sees hers in him. The first signs of their mutual dislike are seen in Chapter 15 when Orlick is first introduced. Joe gives Pip a half-holiday and then feels compelled to give the quarrelsome, slouching Orlick a half-holiday as well. Mrs. Joe, who has been eavesdropping, interferes in matters which are none of her business.
“Like you, you fool!” said she to Joe, “giving holidays to great idle hulkers like that. You are a rich man, upon my life, to waste wages in that way. I wish I was his master!”
“You'd be everybody's master if you durst,” retorted Orlick, with an ill-favoured grin.
In addition to her other faults, Mrs. Joe is a troublemaker. She knows that if she can get Orlick to insult her, Joe will be forced to fight with him in her defense. The quarrel escalates.
“You're a foul shrew, Mother Gargery,” growled the journeyman.
“What did you say?” cried my sister, beginning to scream. “What did you say? What did that fellow Orlick say to me, Pip? What did he call me, with my husband standing by? O! O! O!”
Eventually poor, peaceful Joe is forced to come to his wife's defense. There are people like Mrs. Joe who frequently provoke unnecessary quarrels which get their spouses involved. Mrs. Joe is enjoying herself in spite of her cries of woe. She knows that her husband is more than a match for Orlick, although Orlick is a huge and powerful man. Joe and Orlick have a fistfight which Joe quickly wins by knocking Orlick flat among the coal dust. Afterwards the two men go back to work as if nothing had happened. Joe has done his duty, but he probably feels that he cannot really disagree with anything Orlick has said about his wife.
The importance of this quarrel between Mrs. Joe and Orlick is that it foreshadows much more serious matters. At the end of Chapter XV, the same chapter in which Mrs. Joe and Orlick quarrel and Joe and Orlick have their fistfight, Pip returns home to find that Mrs. Joe has been badly injured by a blow on the back of her head. She remains an invalid, unable to speak throughout the remainder of the novel until she dies. Joe employs Biddy to do the housekeeping and care for his wife. A relationship will develop between Joe and Biddy which will ultimately result in their marriage near the end of the book.
It is generally assumed that Mrs. Joe had been attacked by an escaped convict, because a leg-iron was found beside her. It had been filed through, and it made Pip think it was the leg-iron of the escaped convict to whom Pip had given one of Joe's files in Chapter III. This in itself is a red herring intended to obviate any possibility that Pip's convict could ever become Pip's secret benefactor. Dickens wanted that fact to come as a stunning surprise to Pip, as it does in Chapter XXXIX.
There is good reason to suspect Orlick of having injured Mrs. Joe because of their mutual hatred and recent quarrel. But the reader's suspicions are not confirmed until Chapter LIII when Orlick reveals his secret to Pip as he is getting ready to kill him and throw him in the lime kiln.
“I come upon her from behind, as I come upon you to-night. I giv' it her! I left her for dead, and if there had been a lime-kiln as nigh her as there is now nigh you, she shouldn't have come to life again."