What are some examples of conflict in Of Mice and Men?

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John Steinbeck's novella Of Mice and Men is full of conflict, both internal and external.

Internal conflict takes place within a character. George experiences internal conflict at the end of the novella when he learns of Lennie's accidental murder of Curley's wife and decides to be the one to mete out Lennie's consequence. Though George knows that Lennie did not intend to cause such harm, George also knows that Lennie's luck has run out and that Lennie will have to be punished for his actions. George cares deeply for Lennie, so he chooses to be the one to carry out the punishment, though his feelings of friendship for Lennie conflict with the harshness of the action George must take to ensure justice is served.

External conflict takes place between two characters or a character and some other external force. Lennie experiences an external conflict with Curley when Curley picks a fight with him after he misunderstands Lennie's laughter. Curley interprets Lennie's nervous habit as a mockery of Curley's insecurity about his wife and hits Lennie in anger; Lennie responds in kind, which leads to a physical altercation, or conflict, between the two men.

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In thematic terms, the most important conflict in Of Mice and Men is that between dreams and reality. Virtually all of the characters in the story have dreams, and absolutely none of them ever get to fulfill those dreams. The most obvious example would be George and Lennie's dream to own a big ranch that is all their own, where they'll get to work for themselves instead of slaving away for someone else, and where Lennie will take care of the rabbits.

Then there's Curley's wife, who always wonders what might have been had she tagged along with the troupe of performers who came to her home town when she was a girl. Ever since then, she's harbored big dreams of Hollywood stardom. With her sultry good looks and overpowering sexuality, she certainly has a distinct advantage over the competition. But sadly for her, like George and Lennie, her dream will remain unfulfilled. Indeed, her dream comes to grief at the exact same time, and for the exact same reason, as George and Lennie's.

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Steinbeck introduces drama into every chapter by creating small conflicts between the various characters. It can be seen that every chapter of the novella contains at least one conflict, and conflict is the basis of drama.

In chapter one, George and Lennie are just preparing to camp overnight before reporting for work. First there is a conflict over Lennie's dead mouse. George has to threaten to sock him before Lennie gives it up under protest. There is a minor conflict over the beans. Lennie mentions that he likes catsup with his beans, and this stirs the smoldering anger in George, who berates his companion for all the trouble he causes him. And this brings up the incident in Weed, which forced them to leave the town and head for the Salinas Valley. The Weed incident will be described at greater length when George confides in Slim, and it will be seen that it was a very dramatic event which almost cost both men their lives.

In chapter two, George quarrels with Candy over the yellow can of bug powder. Then the Boss shows up and vents his anger on George for not showing up on time. It appears that George and Lennie don't even have their jobs yet. There is a lot of explaining and verbal abuse before they are finally signed up. Before the chapter is over, George has a confrontation with the pugnacious Curley, which foreshadows serious trouble. Curley's coquettish young wife foreshadows more trouble when she makes an appearance in the bunkhouse doorway.

In the next chapter there is a conflict over Candy's old dog, and then there is the fight between Curley and Lennie.

In chapter four, several people intrude into Crooks's room, and there is conflict between Crooks and Lennie and then between Crooks and Curley's wife, who shows her mean side when she frightens Crooks by suggesting that she could get him lynched if she wanted to.

Then in chapter five there is an intensely dramatic situation which ends with Lennie accidentally killing Curley's wife.

The last chapter, back at the campsite by the river, includes a lynch mob looking for Lennie. George kills Lennie to save him from a torturous death at the hands of the lynch mob. George experiences a serious internal conflict because he doesn't really want to kill his friend but feels compelled to do so.

There are many other minor conflicts throughout Of Mice and Men, including those between Curley and his wife and between Curley and Slim. The conflicts create the impression that life is an ongoing struggle for survival and that conflicts are unavoidable. Readers who have never had to do hard labor or live in subpar bunkhouses will still identify with these men because the readers' own lives--unless they are exceptionally lucky--are rarely free of petty conflicts and occasionally serious and ominous ones.

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