The concept of manhood and what it actually means to be a man is something that lies at the heart of this brilliant short story. Pepe is a character who thinks that he is a man at the beginning of this tale by virtue of his age and the fact that his mother can trust him to go on a journey to buy medicine and other supplies by himself. Note what he says to her to try and reassure her that she can trust him:
"Adios, Mama," Pepe cried. "I will come back soon. You may send me often alone. I am a man."
However, his mother clearly differs in her opinion of him, calling him a "peanut" and a "foolish chicken" and saying that she is really only sending him out of necessity. Pepe equates reaching a certain age and being able to perform certain roles with manhood. Yet as the story progresses, it is clear that Steinbeck questions what makes us a man. Even though Pepe is old enough to be involved in a fight and to kill someone, the way that he flees and becomes more animal than human shows that he is not a man. Perhaps we can argue that he only becomes a man when he decides to face his pursuers and face the consequences of his actions.