Should there be a mercy killing in Of Mice and Men, or is such an act deserving of capital punishment?

Expert Answers
mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I ain't got no people.  I seen the guys that go around on ranches alone.  They don't have no fun.  After a long time they get mean....'Course Lennies...a nuisance most of the time, but you get used to going around with a guy and' you can't get rid of him.

George loves Lennie even though he is exasperated at times with the scrapes that Lennie gets them in.  When Lennie inadvertently kills Curley's wife, George knows that he cannot get Lennie out of trouble for this situation; in addition he realizes that Curley will try to kill Lennie.  To keep Lennie from a tortuous beating and/or prison, George shoots Lennie.  His is an act of desperate love, a mercy killing.

Steinbeck has been criticized for the final scenes in "Of Mice and Men," but they are the fulfillment of the meaning of the title:  Man's dominion has broken Nature's social union and George's act is more symbolic than realistic.  Steinbeck seeks to portray the terrible isolation and despair that George senses.  He knows there will be no dream for him; the keeper of the dream has rent the union of them with Nature.  Lennie can never again live freely, George sadly acknowledges. He musters the courage to do what the old man Candy cannot do to his dog.

Within the framework of Steinbeck's narrative, the reader perceives George's desperate act as one motivated by love.  However, in real life mercy killings are prosecuted by the law because killing another person is considered murder, extenduating circumstances notwithstanding.  But, is it not unfair to compare fiction with reality?