Why did Two-Bit slap Pony hard across the head in Chapter 3 of The Outsiders?

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While Pony, Two-Bit, and Johnny are walking with Cherry and Marcia after the drive-in movies, Cherry asks Pony about his oldest brother, Darry. Pony snaps and says that Darry doesn't care about him at all and wouldn't mind if he was placed in a home for boys. When Johnny responds by saying that he thought Pony got along well with Darry, Pony loses his temper and brings up Johnny's terrible home life by saying, "an' you can shut your trap, Johnny Cade, 'cause we all know you ain't wanted at home, either" (Hinton, 37).

Immediately after Pony tells Johnny to shut his mouth, Two-Bit slaps Pony hard across the head and says that if he wasn't Sodapop's kid brother he would beat the tar out of him. Two-Bit reacts violently towards Pony because Johnny is everyone's kid brother. Johnny is described as the gang's pet and Two-Bit understands the importance of protecting him. Johnny is a vulnerable young boy, who comes from a broken home and relies on his friends to take care of him. Two-Bit slapping Pony demonstrates his protective instinct to defend Johnny at all times.

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Johnny Cade is the pet of all of the greasers in The Outsiders, in part because of his terrible home life. His parents argue all the time, and he is occasionally beaten by his father. So, it is an unspoken rule among the boys never to mention the bad times Johnny experiences at home. When Ponyboy becomes frustrated with Cherry's questions about his own relationship with Darry, he lashes out at Johnny:

"An' you can shut your trap, Johnny Cade, 'cause we all know you ain't wanted at home, either. And you can't blame them."  (Chapter 3)

Tow-Bit ses that Johnny's reaction is "as though I'd belted him," so he retaliates with a "good one across the side of the head." Pony recognizes his mistake, and he apologizes to Johnny.

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