Why does Crooks torture and taunt Lennie about George in Of Mice and Men?

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Crooks taunts and tortures Lennie about George, perhaps, in retaliation against the cruelty of the men towards him in marginalizing him. Also, he wants Lennie to understand what it is like to be without a friend or another man with whom he can talk and do things.

In Chapter 3 as the men play cards in the bunkhouse, George talks with Slim, whose calm manner invites George to talk--

"I ain't go no people," George said. "I seen the guys that go around on the ranches alone. That ain't no good. They don't have no fun. After a long time they get mean. They get wantin' to fight all the time"

"Yeah, they get mean," Slim agreed. "They get so they don't want to talk to nobody."

Perhaps, since Crooks has been isolated for so long, not having been allowed to live in the bunkhouse with the white workers, he has become mean, too. Certainly, he "kept his distance and demanded that other people keep theirs." So, when Lennie steps into his room in the barn, Crooks cruelly tells him to leave, displaying some resentment, as well: "I ain't wanted in the bunk house, and you ain't wanted in my room."

In addition, because the white men call him names as exemplified in Chapter 2 when the field workers came back from the fields, and a man called out to him using a racial slur, Crooks may delight in being cruel in return. In fact, when he initially talks to Lennie about George, he "presse[s] forward some kind of private victory" as he causes Lennie anxiety when he asks him what he would do if George did not return from town and he "never heard of him no more." Lennie whines,

"He won't do it...George wouldn't do nothing like that....Don't you think he will?"
Crooks's face lighted with pleasure in his torture. "Nobody can't tell what a guy'll do....S'pose he gets killed or hurt so he can't come back."

Further, as Crooks continues to taunt the big man, Lennie becomes angry and he walks "dangerously" toward Crooks, asking, "Who hurt George?" Crooks realizes that he has pushed Lennie too far; so, he tells Lennie to sit down, saying, "George ain't hurt."

Crooks said gently,"Maybe you can see now. You got George. You know he's goin' to come back. S'pose you didn't have nobody. S'pose you couldn't go into the bunk house and play rummy 'cause you was black. How'd you like that? ....A guy needs somebody--to be near him....A guy goes nuts if he ain't got nobody."

Clearly, then, there is a certain resentment in Crooks that he has been so unfairly marginalized. He is an intelligent man, clean, and not used to being treated so cruelly as he is not from the South, but grew up in California. He retaliates against the white men through Lennie by taunting him about George's not returning, but he also wants Lennie to understand how he feels being alone all the time.

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Crooks is the only African American on the ranch and is discriminated against because of his race. Unlike the other workers, Crooks is not allowed to stay in the bunkhouse with the other men and is forced to live on his own in a small room attached to the barn. Crooks is an isolated, ornery man, who resents the fact that he lives alone. Whenever Lennie walks into Crooks's room, Crooks is initially upset. Lennie then begins talking about his dream of one day owning a home with George where he can tend rabbits. Crooks resents the fact that Lennie has a close relationship with George and is optimistic about his future. After examining his own life, Crooks becomes cruel towards Lennie and presents a hypothetical situation where George does not return to the ranch, which upsets Lennie. Crooks has been the most powerless man on the ranch until he is sitting across from Lennie, who is mentally handicapped. Crooks essentially takes out his anger and resentment on Lennie, who is helpless without George. His ability to successfully upset Lennie gives Crooks a momentary feeling of power, which is something he lacks. However, Crooks quickly retraces his comments after Lennie becomes threatening. 

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As a black man and a cripple, Crooks is isolated from everyone else on the ranch. Although he can play horseshoes with the men, he isn’t allowed in the bunkhouse to play cards or socialize.

Crooks is especially envious of Lennie’s relationship with George. George takes care of Lennie and they have steady companionship. Lennie is someone George can talk to about anything – in part because Lennie won’t understand or remember what he says. They even have a dream to share.

At first Crooks doesn’t want Lennie in his room. His dignity is very much tied up in his ability to control who enters his room.

‘I ain’t sure I want you in here no more. A colored man got to have some rights even if he don’t like ‘em.’

Once he accepts Lennie, Crooks realizes that he is in a rare superior position to a white man. His misery and envy bring out his cruelty, and he toys with Lennie about George leaving him.  When Lennie starts to get upset, “Crooks’ face light[s] with pleasure in his torture.” Crooks soon sees how dangerous it is to throw Lennie into a panic, stops the teasing and calms Lennie down. Crooks then reveals his own need:

‘Maybe you can see now. You got George. . . . S’pose you didn’t have nobody. . . . I tell ya a guy gets too lonely an’ he gets sick.’

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