In "Of Mice and Men", what is George's reply when the boss asks what he is trying to put over?
Steinbeck has to have a scene in which George and Lennie report to the boss. This might be called an obligatory scene, because the two men can't just move into the bunkhouse and then start to work without being interviewed and hired. It is interesting to note that the boss comes to the bunkhouse to talk to them. The normal procedure would have been for them to report to the boss at his house or wherever they could find him. This is another indication that Steinbeck was thinking ahead. He had definite plans to convert his book into a stage play. By having the boss come to the bunkhouse, Steinbeck avoided having to invent another setting, such as the boss's study or office in his house, where George and Lennie would get signed up.
The play was produced in New York in 1937, the same year the book was published. There are really only two settings needed for the stage play, which must have been a low-budget venture. Most of the action takes place in a bunkhouse, which could be represented with a few bunk beds, a big table, and a wood stove, and in the barn, which could be represented on the stage with piles of hay and very little more. Horses are represented by sound effects offstage. The horseshoe games are also represented offstage by simple sound effects which could be produced by clanging two pieces of iron against each other.
Steinbeck makes the interview in the bunkhouse dramatic by creating conflict between the boss and George. Drama is always based on conflict. The boss is angry and suspicious. He could decide to fire George and Lennie for showing up late for work. George and Lennie badly need the job because they don't have a penny between them. The boss berates George for getting there half a day late. Then he grills George about his relationship with Lennie, accusing him of taking Lennie's pay. The boss is also suspicious about what they were doing in Weed and why they quit. The boss leaves after these parting words:
"All right. But don't try to put nothing over, 'cause you can't get away with nothing. I seen wise guys before." . . . . He turned abruptly and went to the door, but before he went out he turned and looked for a long moment at the two men.
Steinbeck makes this simple matter of getting signed up interesting by creating dramatic conflict. Steinbeck even takes pains to show that the boss carries his time book in his pocket to make it easy for him to sign George and Lennie up at the bunkhouse. Ordinarily, he would have to keep a heavy book in his office with all kinds of information about his employees.
He pulled his time book out of his pocket and opened it where a pencil was stuck between the leaves.
He closed the book. "Where you boys been working?"
The boss deliberately put the little book in his pocket. He hooked his thumbs in his belt and squinted one eye nearly closed. "Say--what you sellin'?"
All of this business with the boss's book is to avoid having to create an additional set representing an office in a ranch house where the boss transacts business and does his bookkeeping.
George lies to the boss and says that Lennie is his cousin and that he looks after Lennie because he was kicked in the head by a horse when he was younger. The boss isn't really convinced with George's explanation and says he'll continue to keep an eye on the pair. The boss' suspicion that George may take advantage of Lennie comes from the idea that most ranch hands don't form real connections with each other. This reinforces one of the themes of the novel: loneliness and alienation. However, George and Lennie are different, not because they are cousins, but because they really do have a close friendship.