What are examples of verbal irony in Of Mice and Men?

Expert Answers
mercut1469 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Verbal irony occurs when a person says one thing but really means something different. There are several examples of verbal irony in Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men. In chapter one Lennie insists that he can go live in a cave when George becomes angry about the dead mouse Lennie has been carrying. George eventually apologizes to him, but at the close of the chapter Lennie repeats his threat:

"’Cause I can jus’ as well go away, George, an’ live in a cave.” 

“You can jus’ as well go to hell,” said George. “Shut up now.”

George is being ironic in that he doesn't really mean that Lennie should go to hell. George has made it clear that he wants Lennie to continue to travel with him.

In chapter two George has to lie to the boss by saying Lennie is his cousin when the boss suggests that George is taking Lennie's pay. After the boss leaves, George tells Lennie,

“Well, that was a lie. An’ I’m damn glad it was. If I was a relative of yours I’d shoot myself.” 

Again, George does not really mean he would shoot himself. He's being derisively ironic toward the fact that Lennie is mentally challenged and often says and does things which are inappropriate.

In chapter four Crooks uses verbal irony when he tells Lennie that he doesn't want the big man to come into his room. In reality, Crooks is awfully lonely and welcomes the company. He tells Lennie,

“Long as you won’t get out and leave me alone, you might as well set down.” 

A little later, Crooks is again ironic when Candy comments that it must be nice to have a room of his own. Crooks has a private room only because he is black and thus segregated from the white men who live in the bunkhouse. He tells Candy:

“Sure,” said Crooks. “And a manure pile under the window. Sure, it’s swell.” 

He doesn't really mean it's "swell," and by referring to the manure pile he's saying that it isn't that wonderful to have his own room.

In the same chapter, Curley's wife joins Crooks, Lennie and Candy. As usual, she is looking for Curley who has apparently gone into Soledad, presumably to a whorehouse. When the men tell her she shouldn't be around them she becomes angry and, referring to Curley, says,

“Sure I gotta husban’. You all seen him. Swell guy, ain’t he? Spends all his time sayin’ what he’s gonna do to guys he don’t like, and he don’t like nobody."

She also doesn't mean the word "swell." She strongly suggests in this chapter and the next that she is not happy being with Curley and that he isn't very nice to her.

While she's talking to the men, she questions Lennie about the bruises on his face. She is curious because Curley has his arm in a sling. Lennie, embarrassed and afraid to admit what happened, is silent as Candy tells her,

“Why . . . . Curley . . . . he got his han’ caught in a machine, ma’am. Bust his han’.” 

The machine in question was not a machine at all, but Lennie, who crushed Curley's hand in the bunkhouse fight. The men are trying to keep the fight a secret so that George and Lennie won't get "canned" from the ranch.