What is Lennie's disability?

Lennie appears to have an intellectual disability of some sort, though no specific diagnosis is offered in the text of Of Mice and Men. Lennie has a large, strong body and can work hard, but he thinks and communicates at the level of a young child.

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First, it's important to recognize that no specific diagnosis is ever given to Lennie in the text itself. From George 's descriptions and Lennie's interactions with others, however, readers can infer that Lennie has some sort of intellectual disability. He is frequently described as childlike in his speech and thoughts,...

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First, it's important to recognize that no specific diagnosis is ever given to Lennie in the text itself. From George's descriptions and Lennie's interactions with others, however, readers can infer that Lennie has some sort of intellectual disability. He is frequently described as childlike in his speech and thoughts, and he depends on George's help to secure and maintain employment.

While Lennie's differences often get him into trouble, they also shape his relationship with George, who serves as Lennie's best friend and protector. George often complains about Lennie's dependency, but it's also clear that the unique nature of their relationship is precisely what has allowed them to develop a deep companionship—one that is denied to their fellow migrant ranch hands. Most of the ranch hands cruelly dismiss or deride Lennie, but in Lennie, George sees someone who cares genuinely about him and someone who shares his dreams for a better life.

Lennie is large, strong, and a good worker, all of which make him an attractive employee—so long as George is there to smooth over any communication issues. Lennie's disability does, however, cause significant problems for him and George at multiple points in the text. An innocent person fascinated by "soft" things, Lennie doesn't mean to harm anyone. However, he also doesn't know his own strength or understand appropriate physical boundaries. As a result, Lennie constantly kills the mice and puppies that he tries to make into pets, handling them too hard in his affection for them.

Lennie's inability to understand boundaries or his own strength is what brings George and Lennie to the ranch in the first place; it's revealed that they lost their previous jobs in Weed after Lennie grabbed a girl's pretty red dress and refused to let go, causing them to be chased out of town. Tragically, a similar encounter occurs on the ranch when Curley's wife enters the barn to speak with Lennie. Lennie wants to touch her soft hair and ends up killing her by mistake, not realizing what he has done until it is too late.

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