John Steinbeck understood and liked people, but he was not sentimental about them. In Of Mice and Men, he shows that most of the characters, like human beings in general, have good and bad, kind and cruel, generous and selfish sides to their natures. Candy is no exception, but he has to keep his darker side hidden. He is old and weak, virtually a charity case. He can’t afford to antagonize anyone. He is holding on to his precarious position in constant fear of being cast out with no hope of finding another job.
Here is Steinbeck’s description of Curley’s dead wife:
Curley’s wife lay with a half-covering of yellow hay. And the meanness and the plannings and the discontent and the ache for attention were all gone from her face. She was very pretty and simple, and her face was sweet and young. Now her rouged cheeks and her reddened lips made her seem alive and sleeping very lightly. The curls, tiny little sausages, were spread on the hay behind her head, and her lips were parted.
And here is what Candy says to the dead girl when he is alone with her:
“You God damn tramp,” he said viciously. “You done it, di’n’t you? I s’pose you’re glad. Ever’body knowed you’d mess things up. You wasn’t no good. You ain’t no good now, you lousy tart.”
Steinbeck has already shown that nearly every character has a cruel side. George protects and cares for Lennie, but he also abuses him verbally on many occasions. Lennie loves little animals but accidentally kills them. The boss who interviewed George and Lennie is a hard-working man but also a bully. Curley has a vicious streak he doesn't even try to hide; instead, it is his vulnerable side that he tries to keep hidden. Poor lonely Crooks is an object of pity, but he takes sadistic pleasure in torturing Lennie by suggesting that George may have abandoned him. Curley’s wife is seductive, but she shows a shocking mean streak when she suggests to Crooks that she could easily have him lynched just by claiming he molested her.
Candy does not show the dark side to his nature until he curses the dead girl in the barn. Steinbeck must have invented this dialogue for the specific purpose of showing that Candy was like all the others (with the possible exception of Slim) in having a cruel streak. Candy is only thinking about himself and his own disappointment. He cares nothing about the girl. He can’t see that her face is “sweet and young” or that “the meanness and the plannings and the discontent and the ache for attention were all gone from her face.” This ugly side had to be shown somewhere in order to make Candy seem like a real person and not just a quaint, stereotypical character.
Steinbeck was one of the most popular writers of his day, and he remains popular with discriminating readers because of his honest, realistic depiction of men and women of a certain social class. His fiction evokes many strong feelings, but he is never maudlin or romantic. He was always a realist, and his characters are always realistic in their being human and thus being mixtures of good and bad, kind and cruel, generous and selfish, strong and weak, honest and dishonest—like most of us.