Which character in Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck is defeated by forces that are beyond his or her control?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles


John Steinbeck gave life to many unforgettable characters in his writing. At the top of that list is Lennie Small from the novella Of Mice and Men. There are two things that get Lennie into trouble: he is mentally challenged, and he is huge in size. These two qualities make life miserable for George, who has the responsibility of taking care of Lennie.

Lennie has a dream.  He wants to live on a farm with George and live off of the land. They will raise and rabbits.  One of the things that Lennie likes best is to have George tell him about their future.

Unfortunately for both characters, Lennie does not understand boundaries. His ability to decipher right from wrong is delayed, and he thinks only  in terms of self-gratification.  Lennie loves soft things which eventually creates the situation that dooms him.

When the story begins, Lennie has touched a girl’s skirt who thought that he was trying to rape her.  George and Lennie have to run away from the town in order to keep Lennie out of jail.

George: She jerks back and you hold on like it was a mouse. She yells and we go to hide in an irrigation ditch all day with guys lookin’ for us, and we gotta sneak out in the dark.

George vacillates from anger to sympathy to love for Lennie.  

Lennie has other problems. He does not know his own strength.  As the two walk along toward their next job on a ranch, George notices Lennie moving something in his pocket. Lennie supposedly found a dead mouse and  has it in his pocket to feel the softness of the fur.

Lennie: “I wasn’t doin’ nothing bad with it, George. Jus’ strokin’ it.” …I remember a lady used to give ‘em [mice] to me---

George: “You crazy fool. That mouse ain’t fresh, Lennie; and besides, you’ve broke it pettin’it.”

Lennie: “I’d pet’ em, pretty soon they bit my fingers and I pinched their heads a little and then they was dead---because they was so little.”

Despite George’s best efforts Lennie is incapable of understanding his strength and the proper way to do things.

Lennie forgets what  he has been told. He does not remember his Aunt Clara that loved him and took care of him. He plays to hard and then forget not to pinch the heads of things that bite him. He overreacts when someone says something to him about George. Over and over again, Lennie fails to recall what he had been told to do and then gets into trouble as a consequence. When Lennie is out of control, he is frightening.  

When Lennie sees something that he likes, he appears unable to resist it. It usually does not end well.  When the puppies are born, Lennie wants one so badly.  He sneaks into the barn and picks up the puppy; he bounces it too hard.  After its death, Lennie’s only fear is that he will not be able to raise the rabbits on the farm with George. He emotionally vacillates between anger and sorrow for the dead animal.

Curley’s wife comes in at the wrong time.  She has Lennie feel of her hair. Of course, Lennie will stroke it too hard which leads to him breaking the woman’s neck to keep her quiet.  Lennie has sealed his fate.

There is no hope for Lennie. In the world in which he lives, Lennie will never be able to be safe.  He does not understand society’s limitations. George does the only thing that he can do for his friend; he keeps Lennie from suffering the consequences of the death of Curley’s wife by shooting him in the head.  

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team