After Lennie and George arrrive at the bunkhouse in Chapter 2 of Of Mice and Men, they encounter an old man who has been sweeping the floors. He is rather gruff with them,
"The boss was expectin' you last night,....He was sore as hell when you wasn't here to go out this morning....You can have them two bunks near the stove."
When George objects to the bunk because he finds a can of bug spray, the old swamper hedges in his answer saying repeatedly, "Tell you what" and pauses in between phrases. As George inquires why one man quit, the old man says,
"Why...he...just quit, the way a guy will."
He is reluctant to divulge any information and is cautious George and Lennie. But, finally, he warms to their company and is happy to have someone with whom to talk, relating information about the boss. However, when the boss arrives, the old swamper, Candy, looks quickly at him, and then "shuffled to the door rubbing his whiskers with his knuckles as he went." He tells the stocky little man that the men have just arrived.
Much like his old dog, Candy, the old swamper is kept around because he is old and cannot work anywhere else. He stays and cleans while the other men go out during the day. As quickly as he warms to George, Candy is probably rather lonely. Still, he is careful not to divulge any information which could get him in trouble with the boss, an action that indicates his insecurity although his telling about Crooks suggests that Candy does feel superior to someone.
The awkward dialogue among the men in Chapter 2 illustrates the alienation of the migratory worker who must be cautious around strangers.
In this section of the novel Candy comes across as wary but friendly. To begin with his speech appears abrupt and stern and the impatience in his speech is mirrored in the ideas he imparts as he explains the reaction of the boss. In the same breath he directs George and Lennie as he identifies the bunks they may have. The reader could be forgiven for believing that this character is the important man on the ranch as his speech suggests knowledge and a working understanding of where the men should be.
George appears to challenge the old man by not accepting the bunks straight away. This allows us to see a flaw in the idea that the old man is in charge, as the swamper becomes more evasive, suggesting that he will become more guarded in the information that he imparts. The old man had appeared committed in directing the men, now he becomes noncommittal and the pauses in the answer he gives George reflect a man who had originally appeared up front and trusting but who now appears to want to protect himself against these newcomers by making a response that is more non committal.
The reader feels the colder response to George as an indication that this friendly old man is not all that he seems possibly because his experience has shown him that he cannot always trust everyone who walks through that bunkhouse door. This suggests that he is an honest man but that he also needs to be a cautious man. It is possible that after this information to George he becomes more guarded in his acceptance of these newcomers and the rest of his conversation suggests that he is friendly and open but that his gossip is really an indicator of how long he has lived on the ranch rather than an indicator that he is a gossip. After all, Candy does not impart unpleasant or bad informaiton about others. Rather, he maintains the goodness that is reflective of his own character, and shares information and memories that make the reader feel warm towards this old man.
As the conversation between George, Lennie and Candy develops the readers’ warmth towards the old man is encompassed also in the warmth that Candy appears to have created amongst the characters. This warmth is probably indicative of the loneliness that this old man experiences. Candy comes across as a friendly. Lonely old man and the level of awkwardness that characterises some of his mannerisms in this extract reflects the experience of the workers in this period, when there would have been a need to be cautious and aware of the unfamiliar nature of working with strangers.