In Of Mice and Men, why does Crooks torture and taunt Lennie about George?
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.’
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.