What is the character development of George in Of Mice and Men?

Expert Answers
mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Authors develop characters in a number of ways:

  1. through a physical description of the character
  2. through the character's actions
  3. through the character's  thoughts, feelings, and speeches
  4. through the comments and reactions of other characters
  5. through direct statements giving the writer's opinion of the character.

The first four of these are termed indirect characterization, while the fifth is direct characterization. In the beginning, Steinbeck uses this direct characterization, as George and Lennie walk to the grove and Steinbeck describes him thusly,

The first man was small and quick, dark of face, with restless eyes and sharp, strong features. Every part of him was defined: small, strong hands, slender arms, a thin and bony nose.

After this description, indirect characterization is employed as the speech of George and other characters's speech and reactions to him further his character development. First, it becomes clear that George, despite his diminutive size, is the smarter, more dominant of the two men. By his tone and words, George is angry at their situation, and is exasperated with Lennie, scolding him for drinking water too fast, for having a mouse in his pocket, and for what happened in Weed,

"I could get along so easy and so nice if I didn't have you on my tail.  I could live so easy and maybe have a girl." 

Then, as they make camp, George indicates the cause of his anger as he says, "You crazy ----You keep me in hot water all the time." And, yet as they eat and relax, George relents in his scolding and recites their dream of owning a farm. He also softens his tone as he recites the lines about their friendship protecting them from the alienation that other men experience,

With us....We got a future. We got somebody to talk to that gives a damn about us.  We dont have to sit in no bar room blowin' in our jack jus' because we got no place else to go....Someday....we're gonna have a little house and a couple of acres an' a cow and some pigs and---"

So, despite his scolding, George does care for Lennie, although he admits this reluctantly. As he talks with Slim, the mule skinner with God-like eyes, George confesses that although Lennie is a "nuisance";

"But you get used to goin' around with a guy an' you can't get rid of him."

That George develops greater feelings for Lennie is evinced as he cautions him against hitting Curley and against talking to Curley's wife: "She's a jail bait all set on the trigger." He also displays his shrewdness as he instructs Curley to not do anything to Curley unless Curley moves first. 

Clearly, George is the most dynamic character of the novella.  He is wise and pure of heart in keeping his promise to Lennie's Aunt Clara, although he escapes his loneliness some by going to town and leaving Lennie behind one night. But, when he learns of what Lennie has done, he sacrifices his own happiness with his mercy killing of Lennie to prevent the child-man's incarceration or his being institutionalized. In his wisdom, Slim recognizes the loyalty of the little man, telling George, "You hadda, George. I swear you hadda. Come on with me." 

In the critical essay, "Of Mice and Men: George and Lennie," the author contends that theirs is a symbiotic relationship as Lennie's strength protects George, and George's intelligence keeps Lennie from an institution.  With Lennie's death, however, George is yet the mouse who cannot escape the cruel maze of fate that limits him.