What are 2 external and 2 internal conflicts in Of Mice and Men?

One external conflict in Of Mice and Men is the conflict all the ranch workers have with their socio-economic circumstances. Their lives consist of drudgery and loneliness. Second is the conflict between George, Lennie and Curley, the ranch owner's son. Internal conflict is evident in George's battle with himself about taking care of Lennie. In addition, the decision Candy has to make about having his dog shot is another example.

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Internal conflict refers to the struggle characters have within themselves. They might have a moral dilemma about doing or not doing something and need to resolve the issue by making a choice. In contrast, external conflict relates to a battle against forces outside their control, whether it is another character, society, or forces of nature. The characters resolve such battles when they defeat these external forces or succumb to them.

There are numerous examples of internal and external conflicts in Of Mice and Men. George's inner struggle about his relationship with Lennie is a conflict that features very strongly in the novel. George promised Aunt Clara to take care of Lennie, who is intellectually disabled, but he constantly gripes how he would have had greater freedom if he did not have to look after him. He is clearly at odds with himself about whether having Lennie as a companion and seeing to his interests is a benefit or not.

Another example is when Candy has to decide whether Carlson should shoot his dog or not. The dog has been his companion all its life, and Candy loves it. He does not want Carlson to shoot it, but eventually relents after Slim's earlier agreement and later refusal to intervene.

External conflict is a visible factor in all the ranch workers lives. They are in a perpetual fight against the socio-economic conditions which rule their existence. Circumstances force them into finding work, and they have, generally, become migrant laborers. They constantly seek to eke out a living by trudging from farm to farm. They lack stability and have to make do with the drudgery of their work and living joyless, lonely lives.

Such external conflict is also noticeable between George, Lennie and Curley, the ranch owner's son. George has an immediate dislike for Curley on their first encounter and states that Lennie could hurt him even if he does not know how to fight. George's premonition becomes true when Curley's animosity later leads to his attack on Lennie and the latter crushing his hand.

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John Steinbeck's novella Of Mice and Men's very title hints at the struggles to come in the narrative.  Taken from Robert Burns's poem, "To A Mouse" which ends with the line

The best laid scemes o' Mice and Men

Gang aft angley [often go awry]

Here are conflicts that occur in the narrative of Steinbeck's short work:


1.  Candy is in conflict with Carlson who wants to shoot the swamper's  dog because the dog "stinks" and is too old to be useful.  After looking "a long time at Slim to try to find some reversal," Candy "softly and hopelessly" tells Carlson to take the dog, lying back on his bunk and staring at the ceiling. (Chapter 2)

2.  Curley creates a conflict with Lenny and George by being confrontation when he enters the bunkhouse looking for his wife.  Later, Curley comes in with Slim, who tells him to "look after your own ---wife." Carlson tells Curley to stop letting his wife hang around the bunkhouse.  When Curley tells him to stay "outta this les' you wanta step outside," Carlson calls Curley "yella" and threatens him physically.  Candy joins in with the insults and Lennie laughs.  As Lennie retreats, Curley hits Lennie with a left, and then smashes his nose with a right punch.  Still, Lennie does not defend himself because he is afraid.  However, when George orders him, "Get 'im, Lennie," the big man grabs Curley's fist, crushing it. (Chapter 3)


1. George has conflicting feelings about Lennie.  While he has promised Lennie's aunt to look after Lennie, George has encountered problems as Lennie gets them into trouble and they lose jobs.  He complains that he could have an easier life without Lennie:

...if I was alone I could live so easy.  I could go get a job an' work, an' no trouble.  No mess at all, and the end of the month come I could take my fifty bucks and go into town and get whatever I want....

However, after George has said this, his

anger left him suddenly.  He looked across the fire at Lennie's anguished face, and then he looked ashamedly at the flames. (Chapter 1)

2. Crooks the stable worker has been alienated by the others because he is black.  When Lennie comes into the barn Crooks is cruel to him in retaliation against the others, taunting Lennie about George's not returning from town.  At first his face "lighted with pleasure in his torture," but when he realizes that Lennie is becoming angry, he relents and says "I didn't mean to scare you."  Then, when Candy arrives "It was difficult for Crooks to conceal his pleasure with anger."  Crooks wants to be cruel because he has been treated cruelly, but his is so elated to have company that he cannot be mean. (Chapter 4)

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