Certainly, it is significant that the girl from Weed described by George in Chapter 3 has been dressed in red, a passionate color often worn by women who wish to appear seductive. Red is also an emotional color and, thus, attracts people of both sexes to it. More importantly, when Curley's wife appears in the doorway of the ranchhouse earlier in Chapter 2, her image is surrounded in red: red lips, red fingernails, red shoes. And, though she pretends to be searching for her husband, Curley's wife's intention is to be seductive:
Lennie's eyes moved down over her body, and though she did not seem to be looking at Lennie she bridled a little. She looked at her fingernails.
Furthermore, the allusions in both Chapter 1, before the introduction of Curley's wife, and in Chapter 3 of the girl from Weed in a red dress are Steinbeck's foreshadowing of the repetition of Lennie's uncontrollable attraction to a seductive woman and the dangers therein involved. Thus, when Lennie follows Curley's wife in the barn in Chapter 6, and inadvertently kills her, the action is entirely credible and expected.
There is something going on with Lennie which Steinbeck only hints at because of taboos and outright censorship in the 1930s. Specifically, Lennie is developing an interest in sex he is incapable of understanding. His passion for fondling soft little animals and the fact that he invariably ends up “accidentally” killing them are ominous.
When the story opens, Lennie and George have recently escaped from a mob in Weed who evidently thought Lennie had intended to rape a girl in broad daylight. This incident strongly suggests that Lennie’s sex drive is becoming more dangerously focused. He has a child’s brain but the body of a full-grown man. George is becoming perplexed and apprehensive, although he doesn’t yet understand the change taking place in his inarticulate companion.
He took on the elaborate manner of little girls when they are mimicking one another. “Jus’ wanted to feel that girl’s dress—jus’ wanted to pet it like it was a mouse—Well, how the hell did she know you jus’ wanted to feel her dress? She jerks back and you hold on like it was a mouse. She yells and we got to hide in a irrigation ditch all day with guys lookin’ for us, and we got to sneak out in the dark and get outta the country.”
At no time does George indicate the girl’s age, but the fact that “he took on the elaborate manner of little girls when they are mimicking one another” suggests that the girl was very young. It would be pretty hard to pet the girl’s dress without petting the girl inside the dress, especially for a man so big and awkward that he kills every little creature he fondles. If the girl in Weed had been only a child, that would explain why the mob was so enraged that they spent the entire day and part of the night chasing them.
It might be guessed that Lennie does not kill little animals accidentally. It is accidental only inasmuch as he can’t help himself. Lennie is not the innocent he seems. He is continually being furtive and deceptive. He can’t control his impulses. What probably happened in Weed was not that Lennie was attracted by a little girl’s dress but by the little girl herself. This sort of scenario would not be publishable in the 1930s. Curley’s wife is not much more than a child herself. When Lennie “accidentally” kills her in the barn, George finally realizes the truth.
“I should of knew,” George said hopelessly. “I guess maybe way back in my head I did.”
He has no intention of helping Lennie escape. He decides to kill him because he understands that Lennie is becoming a menace to society--that his interest in little animals is shifting to little human females. That is what George knew way back in his head. Looking at the dead body of Curley’s teenage wife, George understands the Weed incident in an entirely different light. The reader should understand it in an entirely different light as well.
It is a mistake to assume that George kills his partner to save him from a worse fate. If he helped Lennie escape in Weed in broad daylight, he surely could help him escape at night when he is the only one who knows where he is hiding. The incontrovertible evidence that he intended to kill Lennie that night is the fact that he stole Carlson’s gun. He is not motivated by concern for his partner but by concern for society and a need to expiate his own complicity in the death of Curley’s wife.