What does the dead mouse symbolize that Lennie carries around in his pocket at the beginning of the story? 

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The dead mouse in Lennie's pocket acts as foreshadowing for the death of Curley's wife and Lennie's fateful ending. It also alludes to the novella's title taken from the poem "To a Mouse" by Robert Burns in which a mouse meets a tragic end. 

After Candy discovers Curley's wife who lies lifeless in the hay of a stall, he hurries to bring George to the barn. When George realizes that the young woman is dead, he and Candy discuss what to do. Also, Candy vocalizes his "greatest fear":

"You an' me can get that little place, can't we, George? You an' me can go there an' live nice, can't we, George? Can't we?" (Section 5)

George, whom Steinbeck has described as much like a mouse--"small and quick, dark of face, with restless eyes"--sadly remarks that he thinks he knew from the beginning that nothing would come of their plans.

The best laid schemes of mice and men
Go often askew,
And leave us nothing but grief and pain,
For promised joy!
["To a Mouse" by Robert Burns, Standard English translation]

Robert Burns's words certainly apply to Lennie and George's dream of owning a farm.

Left with little but pain for what he must do to save Lennie from a terrible fate in an institution of some kind, George seeks Lennie at the clearing where he has instructed the childlike man to go if anything goes wrong.

kmj23 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The dead mouse in Lennie's pocket has a number of symbolic meanings. Firstly, the fact that Lennie finds it already dead is important because it suggests that his and George's move to a new ranch will not offer the fresh start that they are looking for. This foreshadows the death of Curley's wife and the trouble which follows. 

Moreover, carrying the dead mouse around is symbolic of Lennie's inability to escape the past. The incident in Weed for example, will haunt Lennie and George, no matter how hard they try to put the past behind them, and not everybody will see that it was an accident.

In addition, the dead mouse is also symbolic of the dangers of Lennie's strength. Although he has a gentle and caring manner, Lennie lacks the ability to control his strength. Whether it's a mouse, a rabbit, or Curley's wife, his desire to stroke and pet soft things always leads to death. It does not matter that these deaths are accidental—what matters is that Lennie's strength will always injure those that he cares about. 

gmuss25 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The dead mouse that Lennie carries in his pocket at the beginning of the novel symbolizes Lennie's vulnerability. Similar to how the mouse is physically small and defenseless, Lennie's mental handicap leaves him helpless in a harsh and cruel world. The mouse cannot withstand Lennie's strength and dies because Lennie pets it too hard. As mentioned in the previous post, the defenseless mouse also represents Curley's wife. When Lennie grips onto her hair, she tries to escape but cannot. Similar to the dead mouse, Curley's wife is also accidently killed by Lennie. In spite of Lennie's innocence, he cannot help himself from inadvertently harming things. Alluding to Robert Burns' poem, neither mice nor men can escape their destiny. The dead mouse symbolizes how innocent creatures such as Lennie and Curley's wife cannot escape their fate.

kiwi eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Lennie carries a mouse in his pocket for comfort. He likes to "pet soft things" and is soothed by the feel of fur. It is perhaps linked to his memories of his Aunt Clara who used to give him pieces of velvet to stroke.

Lennie always accidentally kills the mice he has, which foreshadows his final action of killing Curley’s wife. The mouse represents frailty, weakness and comfort, all of which we see in Curley’s wife, and part of the charm which captivates Lennie.

The use of the mouse also ties in with the title taken from the Robert Burns Poem alluding to the fact that the best laid plans of mice and men often go wrong.

mstokes | Student

Lennie, we quickly realise, is huge and unaware of his own strength, which frequently gets himself into trouble. He loves animals. The mouse may be a symbol of his simplicity and his otherness. After all, few grown men carry mice in their pockets. We learn that he constantly kills the mice he so loves, by literally "loving them to death" and this angers George.

The mouse image or symbol also introduces the theme which becomes the central one of the book. The inadvertent killing of the mice escalates into the killing, however, unwittingly of other larger animals such as the pup and later of course of the woman, Curly's wife, in the barn.