What are the difficulties in the relationship between George and Lennie?

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As the lone, long-standing friendship depicted in Of Mice and Men, the relationship between George and Lennie is highly important to the text's interest in the American social fabric. The problems in this relationship may be as important as the strengths that it also bears.

Lennie requires a significant...

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As the lone, long-standing friendship depicted in Of Mice and Men, the relationship between George and Lennie is highly important to the text's interest in the American social fabric. The problems in this relationship may be as important as the strengths that it also bears.

Lennie requires a significant amount of care and patience from George, who has taken responsibility for Lennie. Lennie’s Aunt Clara, his former caretaker, is dead, and George is now tasked with watching out for Lennie.

The fact that this arrangement is voluntary for George speaks to George’s sense of honor and his generosity of spirit, but also casts a light on George’s occasional bitterness. Things could easily be different for George.

God a’mighty, 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 when the end of the month come I could take my fifty bucks and go into town and get whatever I want. Why, I could stay in a cat house all night.

George is here acknowledging the burden that Lennie places on him as a caretaker. Lennie is not a fit companion for adult pursuits like bar-hopping, and so he keeps George from exploring these bachelor activities. Thus, Lennie functions as a semi-constant restraint on George's freedoms for as long as George agrees to the burden of acting as Lennie's caretaker.

The nature of this burden is two-fold and somewhat complex. First, Lennie has a significantly limited intellect. His memory is remarkably feeble and his social skills are undeveloped. Second, Lennie is very strong and physically imposing, causing those who do not know him to view him not as the childish character he is but instead as a fully mature and perhaps dangerous person. George has to act as Lennie's social advisor in many instances, mediating between Lennie and the rest of the world, explaining Lennie's strengths and weaknesses.

And Lennie is, indeed, strong. He is so strong as to be dangerous. He has little self-control and when he is afraid he grows angry. His intellectual limits coupled with his penchant for soft things cause him get into to trouble repeatedly, and George is the one who has to try to get Lennie out of that trouble, as he does in helping Lennie escape Weed.

Instead of living the free and easy life of a bachelor, George has Lennie as a responsibility. He comments on the burden that Lennie's particular traits engender.

I got you! You can’t keep a job and you lose me ever’ job I get. Jus’ keep me shovin’ all over the country all the time. An’ that ain’t the worst. You get in trouble. You do bad things and I got to get you out.

This dynamic describes the problems that exist in the relationship. George not only has to tell Lennie what to do, he has to tell Lennie what not to do. George has to comfort Lennie and coddle him and also keep Lennie in check so that he does not “do bad things” that might hurt others. Such constant vigilance wears on George, as we see when George lashes out at Lennie verbally early in the story.

The flip-side to this caretaker dynamic is important. While George describes a generic dream of staying in a cat house and spending his time and money freely, he later suggests that this is an empty dream. This vision of bachelorhood is substantially inferior to an alternative vision of friendship and meaningful work on a cooperative ranch.

George appreciates Lennie’s steady friendship even as he is burdened by it, and given the choice between keeping his friend or living the bachelor’s dream, George chooses to stand by Lennie for as long as he can.

In the end, when George goes off with Slim for a drink, we see that the generic dream of unencumbered bachelorhood looks like an empty solitude, something to be regretted instead of celebrated.

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