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John Steinbeck planned to have George kill Lennie at the end of the story. That was to be the dramatic climax. He had to devise his plot in such a way that the closing scene would be workable and plausible. He wanted George and Lennie to be alone at the end, so that they could have some conversation and he could create a moving scene--which he did. In order to have George and Lennie alone at the end of the story, he felt it necessary to establish that they would have a meeting place away from the ranch. For this reason he created the opening scene. It does a lot of things, but its main purpose is to establish a setting where the two men will meet at the end and George will kill his friend.
Steinbeck invented several reasons to explain why George decided to camp by the river when the ranch was only a short distance away. The fact that there are so many reasons makes the decision more implausible than if there had only been one strong reason. The bus driver lets them off ten miles from the ranch. This is implausible. They ought to be able to see that there are no ranch buildings anywhere in sight. George claims that he wants to sleep out under the stars for one more night before they have to go to work. This is implausible. They must have had plenty of nights under the stars already. Even stupid Lennie thinks it would be more sensible to go to the ranch that evening because they could sleep in bunks and get a good dinner instead of eating beans out of cans. By not showing up when they are supposed to, George causes trouble with the owner of the ranch. So he has to do more explaining in Chapter Two.
Candy tells them: "The boss was expectin' you last night...He was sore as hell when you wasn't here to go out this morning."
And when the boss shows up he berates them. George blames it on the bus driver. Finally the boss says: "Well, I had to send out the grain teams short two buckers. Won't do any good to go out now till after dinner."
George and Lennie will probably lose a full day's wages, plus a dinner and a breakfast. All this because Steinbeck wanted to establish the setting where George knew Lennie would be hidiing after killing Curley's wife. The author makes the best of it by using the opening scene for a lot of exposition. We are introduced to the two main characters and learn about their relationship and the trouble they escaped from in Weed. But all of this could have been covered at the ranch. And in fact most of it was recapitulated at the ranch--except for the fact that they slept overnight in a certain spot by the river, where they will reunite in the final chapter.
When Lenny asks George why they are going to camp overnight instead of going all the way to the ranch, George replies,
"I like it here. Tomorra we're gonna go to work. I seen thrashin' machines on the way down. That means we'll be bucking grain bags, bustin' a gut. Tonight I'm gonna lay right here and look up. I like it".
The place where they camp is idyllic, alongside a river with "sycamore limbs rustl(ing) under a little wind". George wants to enjoy the peace and solitude before beginning the hard work that awaits them at the ranch. His decision to rest there also gives him a chance to familiarize Lenny with the area, and he tells Lenny to remember the place; if he gets in trouble he should return there, and George will come for him. This is important to the structure of the novel - the story begins and ends there by the river, and the description of the pastoral scene provides an eerie foreshadowing of what is to come.
George is described as
"small and quick, dark of face, with restless eyes and sharp, strong features...small, strong hands, slender arms, a thin and bony nose".
He is also smart, forward-thinking, and basically good-hearted; frustrated with the slower Lenny, he complains, but feels bad when he hurts Lenny's feelings. He is a poor man working hard to get by and fulfill his responsibility to care for Lenny.
George decides not to go ahead to the ranch because he wants to rest before they begin doing the back-breaking work of bucking barley. They are also tired from walking because the bus driver left them off too soon, and they had to walk the rest of the way.
George isn't a large man. He's small, quick, and tense. He's basically the opposite of Lennie, who is very large and clumsy. George has to do all of the planning and thinking for the both of them. Like a parent, he loses his patience with Lennie, especially when Lennie doesn't do what he's supposed to. Then he feels guilty for being impatient and tells Lennie they're supposed to stay together. George is responsible and kind-hearted.
The teacher had a good answer, but I also recall george saying he likes looking up at the sky...
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