The most recognizable quote from Of Mice and Men indicates how the need for friendship and the dream of a better life drive the decisions and actions of the two main characters.
On the way to the next ranch in the novella’s opening chapter, Lennie begs George to tell him the story. George obliges:
George’s voice became deeper. He repeated his words rhythmically as though he had said them many times before. “Guys like us, that work on ranches, are the loneliest guys in the world. They got no family. They don’t belong no place...They ain’t got nothing to look ahead to.”
With this statement, George recognizes the loneliness of migrant workers, their lack of connection with everyday society, and the unease that comes from poverty and uncertainty. However, as he assures Lennie, who is eager to hear the story,
With us it ain’t like that. We got a future. We got somebody to talk to that gives a damn about us...If them other guys gets in jail they can rot for all anybody gives a damn. But not us.
Right on cue, Lennie echoes “But not us!”
The reader understands that George has led Lennie through this story many times before.
The uniqueness of their friendship is highlighted when George and Lennie arrive at the ranch in Salinas. When the boss interviews them, George assures him Lennie is a good worker. The boss is skeptical and demands to know if George plans to take Lennie’s pay. George replies that of course he won’t take Lennie’s money, and the boss says,
Well, I never seen one guy take so much trouble for another guy. I just like to know what your interest is.
George quickly makes up a line that Lennie is his cousin. Friendship among the migrant workers is so rare that the boss can’t see any relationship that isn’t familial or transactional.
Later, when Slim questions George about Lennie, George explains again that Lennie is a good worker and adds,
I ain’t got no people...I seen the guys that go around on the ranches alone. That ain’t no good. They don’t have no fun.
The bond between George and Lennie and the determination with which George builds his vision of having a place of their own is so strong that their conversations draw in the other workers, like Candy and Crooks, who want to participate in that vision.
George wants a better life and sees friendship and cooperation as the way to get there, indicating his fundamental goodness. That quality makes his repetition of “guys like us” and his decision at the novella’s conclusion all the more tragic.