Crooks is an African-American stable hand who lives by himself, isolated from the other ranch hands, in the harness room. Crooks was born in California, where his father had a chicken ranch. Though he grew up playing with white children, his father liked to maintain his distance from white families, as he knew that they would treat him in discriminatory ways. Crooks is used to being the only African-American person around, including on the ranch. He is called Crooks because he is crippled and has a crooked spine. Steinbeck describes Crooks as "a proud, aloof man."
After years of experiencing racial discrimination, he keeps away from others and expects that they will treat him in the same way. He is lonely and occupies himself reading books because he can't play horseshoes with the other men. Lennie befriends Crooks one day when the rest of the men are in town, and while Crooks is at first unfriendly, Lennie's simple manner wins Crooks over. Crooks becomes excited about Lennie's dream of owning his own land one day.