George and Lennie are the two main characters of Steinbeck's novel. They are traveling through depression era California as migrant farm workers. Lennie is mentally challenged and George has been with him ever since Lennie's Aunt Clara died. When they come to the ranch to work, the first character they meet is the old swamper Candy. He's called a swamper because he's basically like a janitor. He "swamps" out the bunkhouse and takes care of small maintenance jobs on the ranch. When we first meet him he is with a very old dog.
In chapter two George, Lennie and Candy meet in the bunkhouse, and the first conversation between George and Candy is about the bedding. George thinks it might have some parasites because he finds a can of bug repellent on the shelf near his bunk. Candy assures him that it was just that the worker before was quite clean and used the powder just in case:
“Tell you what,” said the old swamper. “This here blacksmith—name of Whitey—was the kind of guy that would put that stuff around even if there wasn’t no bugs—just to make sure, see?"
Candy also tells the men about the various characters on the ranch, including the boss, Crooks, Curley, Curley's wife and Slim. He tells George that the boss was mad the men didn't arrive earlier, but he likes the boss and says,
“Well, he’s a pretty nice fella. Gets pretty mad sometimes, but he’s pretty nice. Tell ya what—know what he done Christmas? Brang a gallon of whisky right in here and says, ‘Drink hearty, boys. Christmas comes but once a year.’”
Candy describes the stable buck Crooks, a crippled black man who cares for the horses and mules. Candy also likes Crooks and says,
“Yeah. Nice fella too. Got a crooked back where a horse kicked him. The boss gives him hell when he’s mad. But the stable buck don’t give a damn about that. He reads a lot. Got books in his room.”
Candy talks the most about Curley and his wife. Curley is the boss's son and is described as "pugnacious," meaning he's always ready to fight. He was a "Golden Gloves" boxer when he was younger. Candy tells George that Curley often likes to pick fights with bigger men. He explains,
“Never did seem right to me. S’pose Curley jumps a big guy an’ licks him. Ever’body says what a game guy Curley is. And s’pose he does the same thing and gets licked. Then ever’body says the big guy oughtta pick somebody his own size, and maybe they gang up on the big guy. Never did seem right to me. Seems like Curley ain’t givin’ nobody a chance.”
Curley is often looking for his wife and the two never seem to be at the same place at the same time. Because of this Curley is quite nervous and he ends up fighting Lennie in chapter three.
The source of problems for Curley and later George and Lennie is Curley's wife. Candy describes her as a tramp and a tart. Candy explains that she is often flirting with the other men especially Slim, the jerkline skinner (meaning he drives the mule team). Candy says,
“I seen her give Slim the eye. Slim’s a jerkline skinner. Hell of a nice fella. Slim don’t need to wear no high-heeled boots on a grain team. I seen her give Slim the eye. Curley never seen it. An’ I seen her give Carlson the eye.”
And a few lines later he says, “Well, you look her over, mister. You see if she ain’t a tart.”
Candy is the most sympathetic character in the book. The ending is not only sad because George has to kill Lennie, but also because the dream of the farm is lost and Candy is stuck in his life at the ranch.