If one of the themes in Of Mice and Men is loneliness and exclusion, another could be “man’s inhumanity to man” or the persistence of social hierarchies, even in the constrained circumstances of the ranch.
Crooks, as a Black man, has been forced out of the bunkhouse by the other men and sleeps by himself. Lenny, however, is someone of an even lower social order than his; this is why he torments Lenny, suggesting that George might have “taken a powder” and left Lenny by himself. When Lenny finally understands what Crooks is suggesting, he is barely able to contain his fury; Crooks backs down, and says he was only trying to get Lenny to think about what it might be like to be alone.
The episode underlines the fundamental problem of the book. What Crooks craves is someone he can explain his loneliness to; Lenny is at best an imperfect partner for this, but Crooks’ desire for companionship is every bit as fanciful as Lenny’s certainty about raising rabbits with George. Crooks recognizes the impossibility of realizing their dreams. He says to Lenny
I seen hunderds of men come by on the road an’ on the ranches, with their bindles on their back an’ that same damn thing in their heads. Hunderds of them. They come, an’ they quit an’ go on; an’ every damn one of ‘em’s got a little piece of land in his head. An’ never a God damn one of ‘em ever gets it. Just like heaven. Ever’body wants a little piece of lan’. I read plenty of books out here. Nobody never gets to heaven, and nobody gets no land. It’s just in their head.
Crooks bitterness is not shared by Lenny, who has complete faith in George and in the truth of his promise about the rabbits. Perhaps the reason for his tormenting Lenny is that, despite his lack of intelligence, he has something Crooks lacks: someone who cares for him, and a dream of a better life.