What would have happened if George didn't kill Lennie?

If George hadn't have killed Lennie in Of Mice and Men, then Lennie would've likely been violently killed by the angry mob. At best, Lennie would have been locked up for the rest of his life, a fate George knows Lennie simply wouldn't be able to withstand. Therefore, George kills his friend to spare him from what he knows would be a terrible fate.

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After the body of Curley's wife is discovered, Curley gathers the ranch hands, determined to hunt down Lennie and kill him in revenge:

When you see ‘um, don’t give ‘im no chance. Shoot for his guts. That’ll double ‘im over.

George watches Curley and the men prepare to leave, and...

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After the body of Curley's wife is discovered, Curley gathers the ranch hands, determined to hunt down Lennie and kill him in revenge:

When you see ‘um, don’t give ‘im no chance. Shoot for his guts. That’ll double ‘im over.

George watches Curley and the men prepare to leave, and given Curley's reputation for violence and his quick temper, George has no reason to believe Curley will hesitate to follow through on his promise to kill Lennie:

I’m gonna shoot the guts outa that big bastard myself, even if I only got one hand. I’m gonna get ‘im.

On the off chance that the mob refrained from killing Lennie (which both Slim and George admit is unlikely), he would've been handed over to the authorities. With an overwhelming body of evidence against him, Lennie wouldn't stand a chance against the criminal justice system. It's also unlikely that his intellectual disabilities would be taken into consideration as a mitigating factor, as such things were not well understood in those days. Those with serious mental illness were all too often executed or given lengthy prison sentences. Slim points out that even if Lennie escapes a death sentence, prison would be uniquely awful for someone like him:

An’ s’pose they lock him up an’ strap him down and put him in a cage. That ain’t no good, George.

In the end, George recognizes that Lennie most likely faces a terrible and traumatic death at the hands of Curley and the mob. Once he realizes there's nothing he can do to stop or persuade them, he decides that as Lennie's friend and protector, the right thing to do is to save his friend from unnecessary suffering through a mercy killing.

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