What do Steinbeck's first descriptions of George and Lennie tell us about their characters?

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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With the first descriptions of George Milton and Lennie Small, Steinbeck establishes the relationship of the two characters, as well as some of their individual characteristics.

Certainly, the names of the two men are suggestive of their personalities. Named after English kings and a renowned English poet, George Milton leads Lennie Small into the clearing. He is "small and quick...with restless eyes...strong features. Every part of him was defined." This description suggests that George is intelligent and very aware of his surroundings and fit to deal with things. The large, bear-like man follows in a subservient posture with

...with wide sloping shoulders...[as] he walked heavily, dragging his feet a little, the way a bear drags his paws.

Lennie imitates the actions of George, and asks questions of George as a child would. That his last name Small is suggestive of a deficiency, which is revealed to be a mental one as he is told what to do by George and scolded for having a mouse in his pocket as a boy would do. George's words, "I could get along so easy and so nice if I didn't have you on my tail" indicate that Lennie is a burden to George.

And, yet, George does have feeling for Lennie, the keeper of their "dream." As he recites, George's voice deepens. He repeats with a certain rhythm:

Guys like us...got no family. They don't belong no place. They ain't got nothing to look ahead to....With us it ain't like that....We got somebody to talk to that gives a damn about us.... Someday--we're gonna get the jack together and we're gonna have a little house and a couple of acres an' a cow and some pigs....

After reciting their dream, George hopes that Lennie will keep from getting into trouble because he does care for the man. He tells Lennie to pull his bindle over by him, and sleep by him as his friend.