What does Ponyboy mean when he says, "We could get along without anyone but Johnny"? Why?

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Ponyboy says that line in order to stress to the reader exactly how important Johnny is to the Greaser gang. The line carries more weight than if Ponyboy had said, "Johnny is important to us." Because he said that the gang couldn't function without Johnny, the point is really driven home of exactly how much of an integral part of it Johnny is. If we were talking about a horse and buggy set-up, there is a single pin that links the horse to the trailer. It's commonly referred to as the "kingpin." That's what Johnny is to the Greasers. He is the single entity that links them all together.

What is odd about Johnny's linking force, though, is that he is not a charismatic leader character. He's a follower. In fact, Pony describes him as being like a little puppy that has been kicked around one too many times.  

If you can picture a little dark puppy that has been kicked too many times and is lost in a crowd of strangers, you'll have Johnny.

Johnny's home life is awful. He's been beaten to within an inch of his life by the Socs, too. He's a scared and skittish boy, and even Cherry recognizes it right away.  

She smiled and her eyes showed that her mind was on something else. "Johnny... he's been hurt bad sometime, hasn't he?" It was more of a statement than a question. "Hurt and scared."

The gang feels an inherent need to protect Johnny at all costs. That, along with their mutual affection and respect for Johnny, are why Johnny has a unifying force about him. It's also why the gang is completely lost following his death.

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Johnny was the personality that united the boys more than anyone, probably, because he needed protecting.  Even Dally wouldn't say or do anything to hurt Johnny.  Ponyboy described Johnny early in the book as a puppy that had been kicked around too much.  Johnny took a brutal beating at the hands of the Socs which further exacerbated his vulnerability as he was always nervous and on-edge in a post-traumatic stress sort of way after the beating.  Probably most instructive was the incident early in the novel when Johnny told Dally to leave the girls alone at the drive-in (he'd been harassing them in true Dally-style) and Dally looked at him in disbelief, and then said. . .nothing.  He just left for the concession stand. 

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In Chapter 8, Ponyboy and Two-Bit visit Dally and Johnny in the hospital. Johnny's injuries are severe, and Ponyboy tries his best to cheer him up by telling Johnny that he'll be okay. Ponyboy also says, "We couldn't get along without you" (Hinton 103). Pony thinks about his comment and mentions that they needed Johnny as much as Johnny needed the gang for the same reason. Johnny then tells Ponyboy that he's scared that he will die, and laments about the possibility of dying young before experiencing the world. Shortly after their conversation, the nurse appears and tells Johnny that his mother is here to see him. Johnny says that he doesn't want to see her, struggles to sit up, then passes out cold on the pillow. The nurse tells Pony and Two-Bit it is time to leave, and they walk out of Johnny's room. Two-Bit comments, "We could get along without anyone but Johnny" (Lee 104).

Two-Bit and Ponyboy both realize that Johnny's death would profoundly affect their gang. Johnny was a sympathetic, quiet individual who was a great listener. All of the members of the gang would vent about their lives to Johnny, and Johnny would actually listen. His friendship was valuable, and his ability to listen was indispensable. Without Johnny, the Greasers would have no one to voice their feelings to and be forced to repress their emotions. Johnny was also viewed as everyone's little brother, and the Greasers took care of him. Every member developed a loving relationship with Johnny, and he was part of their "family." Losing Johnny would be devastating for everyone in the group which is why Two-Bit and Pony believe they couldn't make it without Johnny.

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Johnny Cade is the smallest member of the greaser gang and, next to Ponyboy, the youngest. He has the worst home life of them all: His parents argue all the time, and his father beats him. He has previously been attacked and badly beaten by a gang of Socs, so he now rarely travels alone and has taken to carrying a knife. He is sensitive, like Ponyboy, and somewhat withdrawn. He is akin to a team mascot--the favorite of all the boys, especially Dally, who has few close friends. Although part of the boys' concern for Johnny comes from a sympathetic nature, Johnny is the unifying force between many of them. The gang needs Johnny as much as Johnny needs them.

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