In John Steinbeck’s novel of Depression-era migrant ranch-hands struggling to survive, Of Mice and Men, Candy, “Old Candy,” is called a “swamper.” He is responsible for sweeping out the bunkhouse where the ranch-hands sleep and play cards in their off-time, as well as sweeping out barns. He is old, and his existence is embodied in the old smelly dog he keeps as a companion. Candy is a sad figure. He has nobody and nothing save that dog, which he will be finally convinced by Carlson, with Slim’s consent, to have shot to be put out its misery. The discussion of Candy and his devotion to this animal comprises much of a chapter. Pertinent quotes regarding Candy and his dog follow:
“Damn right he is,” said Carlson. “He don’t give nobody else a chance to win —” He stopped and sniffed the air, and still sniffing, looked down at the old dog. “God awmighty, that dog stinks. Get him outa here, Candy! I don’t know nothing that stinks as bad as an old dog. You gotta get him out.” Candy rolled to the edge of his bunk. He reached over and patted the ancient dog, and he apologized, “I been around him so much I never notice how he stinks. . .Candy threw his legs off his bunk. He scratched the white stubble whiskers on his cheek nervously. “I’m so used to him,” he said softly. “I had him from a pup.”
After Candy has relented and allowed Carlson to shoot his dog, Candy continues to mourn his lost pet and to regret that he hadn’t taken care of matters himself, stating to George, “I ought to of shot that dog myself, George. I shouldn’t ought to of let no stranger shoot my dog.”
Candy knows his days at the ranch are numbered due to his advancing age and crippled arm, the product of an injury he suffered on-the-job and for which he was compensated by the ranch’s owner. Hearing of George and Lennie’s plans to pursue the American Dream by buying their own plot of land and being their own bosses, Candy hopes to join the duo in their pursuit:
Candy said, “I ain’t much good with on’y one hand. I lost my hand right here on this ranch. That’s why they give me a job swampin’. An’ they give me two hunderd an’ fifty dollars ‘cause I los’ my hand. An’ I got fifty more saved up right in the bank, right now. Tha’s three hunderd, and I got fifty more comin’ the end a the month. Tell you what—” He leaned forward eagerly. “S’pose I went in with you guys. Tha’s three hunderd an’ fifty bucks I’d put in. I ain’t much good, but I could cook and tend the chickens and hoe the garden some. How’d that be?” George half-closed his eyes. “I gotta think about that. We was always gonna do it by ourselves.” Candy interrupted him, “I’d make a will an’ leave my share to you guys in case I kick off, ‘cause I ain’t got no relatives nor nothing. You guys got any money? Maybe we could do her right now?” . . .
Candy sat on the edge of his bunk. He scratched the stump of his wrist nervously. “I got hurt four year ago,” he said. “They’ll can me purty soon. Jus’ as soon as I can’t swamp out no bunk houses they’ll put me on the county. Maybe if I give you guys my money, you’ll let me hoe in the garden even after I ain’t no good at it. An’ I’ll wash dishes an’ little chicken stuff like that. But I’ll be on our own place, an’ I’ll be let to work on our own place.” He said miserably, “You seen what they done to my dog tonight? They says he wasn’t no good to himself nor nobody else. When they can me here I wisht somebody’d shoot me. But they won’t do nothing like that. I won’t have no place to go, an’ I can’t get no more jobs. I’ll have thirty dollars more comin’, time you guys is ready to quit.”
Candy is desperate to escape this life. He has now firmly linked his future to that of George and Lennie, a dubious proposition but one born of the will to scratch out a better life:
Candy cried, “Sure they all want it. Everybody wants a little bit of land, not much. Jus’ som’thin’ that was his. Som’thin’ he could live on and there couldn’t nobody throw him off of it. I never had none. I planted crops for damn near ever’body in this state, but they wasn’t my crops, and when I harvested ‘em, it wasn’t none of my harvest. But we gonna do it now, and don’t you make no mistake about that. George ain’t got the money in town. That money’s in the bank. Me an’ Lennie an’ George. We gonna have a room to ourself. We’re gonna have a dog an’ rabbits an’ chickens. We’re gonna have green corn an’ maybe a cow or a goat.” He stopped, overwhelmed with his picture.
Candy is among the more tragic of a story replete with tragic figures. He has, for the first time in many years, developed a sense of hope regarding his future, only to see those hopes come crashing down with the novel’s climactic developments.
Slim represents one of the more stable, rational figures among Steinbeck’s ranch-hands. Initially described as a “skinner,” Slim is respected for his intelligence and for his willingness to do what’s right when others stand idly by. He is depicted as an eminently decent human being, as when George is describing his sometimes inappropriate treatment of the gentle giant Lennie: “He’s a nice fella,” said Slim. “Guy don’t need no sense to be a nice fella. Seems to me sometimes it jus’ works the other way around. Take a real smart guy and he ain’t hardly ever a nice fella.”
Slim is also described by Candy to George as a threat to Curly, the diminutive son of the ranch’s owner. Describing Curly’s wife, an attractive woman with a roving eye, Candy notes, “I seen her give Slim the eye. Slim’s a jerkline skinner. Hell of a nice fella. Slim don’t need to wear no high-heeled boots on a grain team. I seen her give Slim the eye.” Steinbeck provides additional indications that Slim is destined to play a larger role in his narrative, particularly with respect to Curly’s obsessive nature regarding his wife’s fidelity. In one passage, Slim is described as having a “hatchet face [that] was ageless. He might have been thirty-five or fifty. His ear heard more than was said to him, and his slow speech had overtones not of thought, but of understanding beyond thought. His hands, large and lean, were as delicate in their action as those of a temple dancer.”
While Slim places the last nail in Candy’s dog’s coffin by agreeing with Carlson that the old man’s pet should be put out of its misery – Candy defers to Carlson only when Slim indicates his agreement with Carlson (“Slim’s opinions were law”) – it is Slim who offers Candy a form of compensation: “Slim said, ‘Candy, you can have any one of them pups you want.’ Candy did not answer. The silence fell on the room again.”
As noted, Slim is not one to stand idly by in the midst of injustice, as when Curly enters the bunkhouse and proceeds to repeatedly strike the seemingly helpless Lennie. George, Lennie’s caretaker, stays out of the fight, hoping that Lennie will finally prove his mettle by defending himself and turning his massive physical strength against the boss’s son. Instead, Lennie only absorbs Curly’s blows while pleading with George to help, as in the following scene:
“Lennie looked helplessly at George, and then he got up and tried to retreat. Curley was balanced and poised. He slashed at Lennie with his left, and then smashed down his nose with a right. Lennie gave a cry of terror. Blood welled from his nose. “George,” he cried. “Make ‘um let me alone, George.” He backed until he was against the wall, and Curley followed, slugging him in the face. Lennie’s hands remained at his sides; he was too frightened to defend himself. George was on his feet yelling, “Get him, Lennie. Don’t let him do it.” Lennie covered his face with his huge paws and bleated with terror. He cried, “Make ‘um stop, George.” Then Curley attacked his stomach and cut off his wind. Slim jumped up. “The dirty little rat,” he cried, “I’ll get ‘um myself.” George put out his hand and grabbed Slim. “Wait a minute,” he shouted. He cupped his hands around his mouth and yelled, “Get ‘im, Lennie!”
Slim alone among the ranch hands jumps to Lennie’s defense. He is a good man who laments the injustices inherent in these men’s situation.