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mercut1469 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Lennie Small is one of the main characters in John Steinbeck's novella Of Mice and Men. He travels as a migrant farmworker with his friend and caretaker George Milton. Lennie is mentally challenged and often fixates on certain things, such as a girl's red dress, making rings in a pool or having ketchup on his beans. His biggest fixation is on petting soft things, especially the rabbits he associates with the ranch he and George are hoping to buy. He is absolutely obsessed with the feel of something soft in his hand, even the dead mouse that George takes away from him in Chapter One.

Lennie expresses this overwhelming desire several times in the book. In Chapter One he explains to George about the dead mouse: "I wasn't doin' nothing bad with it, George. Jus' strokin' it" (p. 9). In Chapter Two, Lennie pleads with George to ask Slim for a puppy, and in Chapter Three Lennie smuggles the puppy into the bunk house against George's orders. Lennie says, "I'll take him back. I didn't mean no harm, George. Honest I didn't it. I just wanted to pet him a little" (p. 43).

Maybe the best explanation comes in Chapter Five when Lennie is alone with Curley's wife. While trying to explain to her about his hopes to "tend rabbits," he says, "I like to pet nice things. Once at a fair I seen some of them long-hair rabbits. An' they was nice, you bet. Sometimes I've even pet mice, but not when I could get something better" (p. 90). When Curley's wife contends that he is crazy, he goes on, "No I ain't...George says I ain't. I like to pet nice things with my fingers, sof' things" (p. 90). This statement reassures Curley's wife, and she allows Lennie to stroke her hair. This, of course, leads to tragedy and Lennie's ultimate demise. 

mcgrathea | Student

Lennie likes to touch things that are soft. Early in the novel, George chides Lennie for keeping a dead mouse in his pocket for petting. Originally, the mouse was alive and Lennie would pet it because it was soft. Unfortunately, Lennie’s significant intellectual disability makes it difficult for him to judge when he is using too much force and not being able to control his strength or his impulses leads him to accidentally kill the mouse.

This is important because the pattern of touching something soft, losing a sense of control, and accidentally causing harm happens multiple times in the novel. This occurrence of Lennie accidentally killing the mouse and later accidentally killing a puppy foreshadows the moment when Lennie will accidentally kill Curley's wife after petting her hair.

These acts of violence that start with the innocent intention of touching something soft are sympathetic, but ultimately lead to Lennie’s death as well.