Steinbeck-as-narrator reflects on his understanding of the nature of the world. He argues that there is only one story: from birth, men are caught in a “net of good and evil.” And at the conclusion of our lives, we ask ourselves hard questions: “Was it good or was it evil? Have I done well – or ill?” The only measuring stick is “Was he loved or hated? Is his death felt as a loss or does a kind of joy come from it?”
Steinbeck uses his “measuring stick” to reflect on the lives of three men. The first was a rich man who spent most of his life ruining others. As his life was drawing to an end, the man attempted to right his lifelong wrongs by performing “great services.” But when the news announced his passing, the overall sentiment was, “Thank god that son of a bitch is dead.”
Another man “clothed his motives in the name of virtue” but fooled no one and there was “gladness when he died.” A third man had devoted his life to “making men brave and good” in a troubled time. When he died, people cried and wondered how they could go on without him.
In summation, Steinbeck sticks by his premise that people mostly want to be good and want to be loved. If he has failed to be loved in life, he dies in a “cold horror.” He asks that we try to remember our dying and choose properly in “the two courses of thought and action.”