In Of Mice and Men, was George shooting Lennie justified?

37 Answers

blacksheepunite's profile pic

blacksheepunite | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Associate Educator

Posted on

George's justification for shooting Lennie is to keep him from experiencing the pain that will follow the consequences of his actions. Lennie will be lynched, probably beaten and then killed when he is caught. George also knows that even if they were to escape, it would be just a matter of time before Lennie had another "accident" and killed someone else. He knows he can't protect him from society, as he also can't protect society from Lennie. From George's perspective, killing Lennie before he is caught is the only kind thing to do. It is a quick end--he even protects Lennie from seeing it coming. From George's perspective, it is an act of love. As to whether it is justifiable or not, that is difficult to say. From one perspective, killing is never acceptable. However, real life is seldom black and white, and sometimes love requires a shift from absolute morality to relative.

Here is a video summarizing the novella:

mellowmrsm's profile pic

mellowmrsm | (Level 1) Adjunct Educator

Posted on

Although the answer to this question can be defended either way, I feel that George is justified in killing Lennie. Aside form the fact that Lennie has been and will continue to be a hindrance to George in both his personal and professional life, this is not George's main motivation for carrying out such a serious deed. Ultimately, George kills Lennie in a sense of mercy. Lennie, although he may have continued on living a happy, oblivious life, would most likely have found a much worse demise. Due to his lack of cognitive skills and his unbridled brute strength, Lennie continuously found himself in situations where not only did he do something that gets him in trouble or that he didn't mean to do, but angers other people in the process. In fact, when George ultimately does choose to kill Lennie, Lennie was essentially on the run. Curly and the rest of the people from the farm were on a man hunt to kill Lennie  and possibly George because of the trouble that he had caused for all of them (mainly the accidental manslaughter of Curly's wife). They certainly would not have been as nice, comforting, or humane as George was in killing him. George did not see an end to Lennie's antics, and so "putting him out of his misery" was a way to protect himself from Lennie, but also Lennie from himself.

mrerick's profile pic

mrerick | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Associate Educator

Posted on

I think the problem with this issue is that it's easy to forget that George is human also.  We spend our time recognizing Lenny as someone who needs help and George as the provider for that help.  The more we see Lenny leaning on George for help, the more as accept the fact that George needs to help him, that he is almost required to fulfil this role.  What we need to do, though, is put ourselves in George's shoes more closely.  How many times can you continue to follow the exact same actions before you tire of it.  They just ran to this ranch to escape Lenny's actions in Weed.  While I agree George may have been lazy about his reaction to this new problem, he probably recognized the bigger picture.  They could run away from this problem and get work on another ranch, but it would only be a matter of time before they'd be running again.  This horrible cycle has to be heavily weighing on George who wants nothing more than to be a regular working "Joe" who dreams of owning his own ranch.  We've all made rash, poor decisions when overcome with the stress of responsibilty, this was George's.  I suppose we can argue whether his actions were right or wrong forever and ever, but I think that more important that it being right or wrong, it's understandable. 

asorrell's profile pic

asorrell | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Assistant Educator

Posted on

All of my kids loved Lennie, but I think most of them felt that it was a mercy killing and that a worse fate would have awaited Lennie if George hadn't shot him.  They feel sympathetic with George and Lennie.  Both characters are in a bad situation and obviously Lennie can't make a decision for himself.  Yes, if George had were arrested he would be convicted for murder, but most students see the reason and understand the reason he felt he had to do it.  And yes they could run, but they already had to run when they were in Weed.  I think George assumed (and probably rightly so) that it would just happen again.

cybil's profile pic

cybil | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator

Posted on

Interesting, leagye. Most of my freshmen (who are all boys) believe that George had no other choice but to save Lennie from a worse kind of death at the hands of Curley and his men. The action is murder, but my boys argue that it's a kind of mercy killing. George gets irritated with Lennie, yes, but George still cares very much about what happens to his mentally handicapped friend. We talk about what suffering Lennie might have endured otherwise. 

It's important as well to keep Steinbeck's style as a naturalistic writer in mind. It's tough to read much of his work at a time because it is so uniformly grim. People like George and Lennie or the family in The Grapes of Wrath are always going to lose because of forces beyond their control. In this novel Lennie's doom is suggested from the moment we learn that he cannot control himself in his desire to touch soft things, whether it's a girl's dress or a mouse. People don't understand his behavior. Society in Steinbeck's works doesn't tolerate differences like Lennie's. Candy, Crooks, and Curley's wife are also victims in this regard. 

leagye's profile pic

leagye | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Assistant Educator

Posted on

Most of my freshmen consistently feel that the shooting was unjustified, regardless of what horrible fate may have awaited Lennie at the hands of the men who were after them. As clane said, there were other options (that freshmen are so good at coming up with) other than murder. At that point, I usually explain that it is important to keep in mind what Steinbeck may have been trying to impart to the reader. It speaks to Steinbeck's compassion for people who had no home, no family and who led a nomadic existence during that time in California's history. The stresses of that type of life were intense, and friendships and relationships were complex (or just didn't exist for many).

alexb2's profile pic

alexb2 | eNotes Employee

Posted on

I don't think any murder is justified, but I do think George cares for Lennie and the shooting is not done out of anger or even that he is sick of Lennie and the burden he represents.

amy-lepore's profile pic

amy-lepore | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted on

I feel that way, too, Clane.  Reading the book makes the reader feel extremely sorry for Lennie...he makes decisions on impulse.  More like an animal than a human being.  He is incapable of understanding his own strength and understanding the subtleties of life.  I don't think George was right.  Murder is murder, and it is not for George to decide when Lennie should go to the great beyond.  George simply got tired of caring for an adult who acts like a child...a terrible burden on George and the way he wants to live his life.  No matter how much your child annoys you or messes up, you can't just kill him.

clane's profile pic

clane | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator

Posted on

It's tough because one the one hand you have to commend the man for making such a huge sacrifice to spare his friend the torture he might have incurred at the hands of the angry mob after him. One the other hand, it is murder, any way you slice it he killed Lennie. I think that he had Lennie's forgiveness and I think Lennie sensed what had to be done, but I hate to condone something so terrible. I wish he has found another choice to make, there were other choices he could have made and I kind of feel like he was lazy about it. He could have found a place to hide Lennie and then tried to explain, they could have kept running, he could have begged for mercy from the men, it was as if he was tired of having to look out for Lennie and just gave up, gave in, and shot him.

billdelaney's profile pic

William Delaney | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

Nobody but the reader knows that happened between Lennie and Curley's wife in the barn. George was not there. He only saw the girl's dead body. To everyone it looked like a case of murder in connection with an attempted rape. What actually happened, as we know, was different. Lennie got panicked when Curley's wife started screaming for help. The men were playing horseshoes right outside the barn. He was desperate to make her stop struggling and screaming. It is noteworthy that something similar happened in Weed, but that time George arrived on the scene in time to intervene. The fact is that Lennie's crime was probably more like accidental manslaughter, since there was no intent to commit murder, or to commit rape, for that matter. But he would have no way of defending himself in a court trial because he didn't have the capability of explaining the circumstances, and there was nobody else to tell what actually happened. It looked much worse than it was. If it ever came to a trial--which was highly unlikely--the prosecutor would have to insist that Lennie was trying to rape the girl. It would be hard to establish that he was trying to murder her.

charcunning's profile pic

charcunning | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Assistant Educator

Posted on

Lennie was going to die; there was no way around it. He didn't want his friend killed by strangers or to be scared at the moment of his death. Killing Lennie himself was the most humane thing that George could do; he would rather bear the guilt of having killed his friend than the guilt of turning his friend over to those who were out for his blood.

scarletpimpernel's profile pic

scarletpimpernel | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted on

The answer to your question depends on what one's definition of love is.  If you see love as a willingness on someone's part to sacrifice his own good or comfort for another's, then George certainly demonstrates love for Lennie by shooting him.  While that might seem harsh, and while I don't think that I could do what George did, he saves Lennie from a worse fate and keeps Lennie from either being tortured by Curley, being institutionalized (which was a torturous experience in 1930s America), or with being on the run for the rest of his life.

George knows that when he shoots Lennie that he is not only losing him forever, but that he will also have to live with his action.  This knowledge on his part demonstrates that George's act is completely selfless and in Lennie's best interest.

y2kfain's profile pic

y2kfain | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Adjunct Educator

Posted on

George loved Lennie. Whether George did the right thing is a matter of opinion. When Slim shoots the old dog earlier in the book the incident serves as a foreshadow. The dog is old, blind, disabled, and stinky and thought to be of no use to himself or anyone. Unfortunately, Lennie's innocence and strength is useful, however, those qualities become his detriment. He places himself and others in dangerous situations. George and Lennie were run out of weed because Lennie touches a girl's dress and she claims that she was raped. Then Lennie destroysCurley's hand on the command of George. Finally, Lennie kills Curley's wife accidentally due to his superhuman strength. If George would not have killed him,Curley and the others would have lynched him or shot him unmercifully. George was in the position where he had no choice. He rather put Lennie to eternal sleep himself than allow the angry men to kill Lennie.

mwestwood's profile pic

mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

Years ago there was a movie entitled, "They Shoot Horses, Don't They?" which was also set in the Great Depression.  In this film, desperate couples entered dance marathons in the hope of winning the monetary prize, a prize that could restore them to a life without hunger and all the other ills of poverty.  Since only one couple would win after agonizing hours of dancing on a hardwood floor, the losers left more desolate and defeated than before.  In fact, many no longer wanted to continue the desperate struggle for survival.  One character asks, "Why don't they just shoot us like they do horses?"

The final controversial episode of George's shooting of Lennie is parallel to this movie's theme.  For George, his act was one of mercy, preventing Lennie from suffering the terrible loneliness, alienation, and fear that he would in prison.  George not only kills Lennie when he shoots, he kills the dream, so that the future for him is murdered, as it is for the losing dancers of "They Shoot Horses, Don't They?"  Indeed, the denouement of Steinbeck's novella is as desperate as the times in which it is set.

bullgatortail's profile pic

bullgatortail | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

Lennie's dream of living with George and the rabbits dissolves for good when he accidentally strangles Curley's Wife in John Steinbeck's monumental play, "Of Mice and Men." George knows that the two of them will not be able to run away from this problem as they had in the past. Lennie is facing either a lynch mob or the death penalty (or, at least a long prison sentence), so George takes matters into his own hands and puts his friend out of his misery--a humane act usually reserved for pets such as rabbits.

Showing 1–15 of 37