In Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men, what game are the men on the ranch playing while George and Slim talk in the bunkhouse at the beginning of Chapter Three?
In the beginning of Chapter Three, George and Slim are alone in the bunkhouse. Some of the other workers on the ranch, including Carlson and Crooks, are outside playing horseshoes. George is thanking Slim for giving Lennie a puppy and Slim is commenting on Lennie's strength and that he is a good worker and a "nice fella." George tells Slim about the details of his life traveling around with Lennie. George confesses that he used to play tricks on Lennie and he also relates the story of Lennie's problem with the girl in the red dress up in Weed. Slim listens patiently during George's story.
Eventually, Candy and Carlson enter the bunkhouse and Candy asks George and Slim if they had been playing horseshoes, suggesting that he may not have been part of the game. Carlson comments that Crooks, the black stable buck, is a very good horseshoe player. He says, "He don’t give nobody else a chance to win." The playing of horseshoes is one of the few activities which Crooks is allowed to participate in with the other laborers, who are all white. It is a symbol of equality which is lacking in the rest of the institutions on the ranch and in the larger world. Crooks is otherwise segregated and even lives in his own separate room in the barn rather than in the bunkhouse.
John Steinbeck called Of Mice and Men "a playable novel." He intended to convert the book immediately into a stage play to be produced in New York in 1937, the same year the book came out. The play was set mainly indoors in a bunkhouse and a barn. But Steinbeck wanted to convey a suggestion in the play that there was a big outdoors with plenty of outdoor activities. He uses horseshoes to suggest the existence of a big world outside the bunkhouse and the barn. In the play he could have a stagehand clanking a horseshoe against an iron bar offstage to indicate that men were playing horseshoes. Big teams of horses were used in field work, but naturally could not be shown on a stage. They are represented by offstage sound effects of clomping hooves and jingling harnesses.
Carlson's comment that Crooks is such a good horseshoe player that "He don’t give nobody else a chance to win" is made indoors in the bunkhouse. This is another way of creating an impression of the outdoors by what is said or heard indoors. Steinbeck could have described men playing horseshoes in the book and then taken it out of the play, but he was under time pressure and wanted the adaptation to be as quick and easy as possible.
The other guys were playing horseshoes, which they played most days after work until it got dark. Crooks, the black stable buck, was particularly good at horseshoes.