Why does George take care of Lennie in Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men?

In Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men, George takes care of Lennie out of a sense of obligation to Lennie's Aunt Clara and due to the understanding that Lennie is far too vulnerable to make it on his own.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

On the surface, George take cares of Lennie because he promised Lennie's Aunt Clara he would do so, but there are deeper reasons for his actions. Lennie helps George as much as George helps Lennie.

As George says early on in the story, he and Lennie have what most migrant...

Unlock
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Start your 48-Hour Free Trial

On the surface, George take cares of Lennie because he promised Lennie's Aunt Clara he would do so, but there are deeper reasons for his actions. Lennie helps George as much as George helps Lennie.

As George says early on in the story, he and Lennie have what most migrant workers don't, which is companionship. They have each other for friendship and to lean on in adversity, which makes facing their hard lives easier.

Although George often gets angry at Lennie and complains at having to take care of him, in reality, the two men have a strong, caring bond, and George loves Lennie dearly as a friend. Each complements the other: George is the type of person who likes to be in charge, and because Lennie is mentally handicapped, there is no quarrel about George making all the decisions for them. Lennie, in turn, needs George's guidance if he is to survive at all. Additionally, while George is small and wiry, Lennie is big and strong, offering George a measure of protection.

Lennie gives George's life meaning and purpose. Lennie is a friend he can confide in and a person who he knows needs him. Lennie also makes it possible for George to dream about a better future in which they can buy a small farm together. Such a dream becomes bitter without someone to share it with. When George kills Lennie out of mercy, he loses everything important to him.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

George once made a solemn promise to Lennie's Aunt Clara that he would take care of him. A man of his word, George endeavors to do precisely that. Which is just as well, because Lennie is unable to care of himself. He needs George to be with him at every stage on life's journey. Otherwise, he'd likely get into serious trouble.

That's not to say that Lennie can't get into trouble even with George around. We only need to remember what happened back in Weed to see that there are limits as to how much George can protect Lennie. Even so, if George weren't there to look out for him, Lennie would almost certainly end up either killed or in prison.

It's because George wants to spare him of this terrible fate that he shoots Lennie before he can fall into the hands of a local posse after he accidentally kills Curley's wife. On the face of it, it may seem that George, by killing his friend, is going back on the promise he made to Lennie's Aunt Clara. But in actual fact, he's making good on that promise, albeit in an unusual way.

George knows that if Lennie is apprehended, then he simply won't be able to handle being incarcerated, and there'll be absolutely nothing that he, George, can do about it. And so, in order to protect Lennie and to fulfill his promise to Aunt Clara, George spares Lennie of enduring any further cruelty.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

I would argue that the primary reason that George takes care of Lennie is a sense of familial obligation. George explains to Slim that he had known Lennie’s Aunt Clara, who had taken Lennie in as a baby and raised him. In the aftermath of Aunt Clara’s death, Lennie went “out workin’” with George, and the two had been together ever since. There is no doubt an element of sympathy is the reason why George takes care of Lennie, as well as an element of obligation to Aunt Clara’s memory.

Another reason why George continues to look after Lennie is the deep brother-like bond that has formed between the two of them. George is very protective of Lennie, which is why he reminds him of the mistakes that he made in the past in the hope that he does not repeat these mistakes at the new ranch.

George explains to Slim that he had once told Lennie to jump into the Sacramento River, and Lennie had done it without hesitation despite not being able to swim. This made George realize just how vulnerable Lennie was and how much he needed ongoing assistance. In a nutshell, George takes care of Lennie because he realizes that someone needs to do it and, over time, he has become fond of Lennie, despite the difficulties that he causes.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

George takes care of Lennie because he has promised Lennie's Aunt Clara that he will look after him and protect him. This promise and George's moral astuteness bonds the men together. Lennie would not be able to survive outside of an institution if George were not there to ensure his safety. George views his responsibility as a burden at times, but in certain moments throughout the book one may see his true affection for Lennie, particularly through their mutual vision of a farm of their own. This sadly unattainable dream allows them to live outside of the stark reality of their lives. George views Lennie as a brother, friend, and partner in crime. Without Lennie, George would be lonely. It seems as though they need each other equally, although upon first look it seems like Lennie mostly needs George. This makes the ending of the story all the more tragic.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

George promises Lennie's Aunt Clara that he will take care of Lennie, and it starts out as an obligation.  However, somewhere along the line, George's relationship with Lennie escalates to a level something similar to that of a parent protecting a child.  George sees Lennie as a child-like figure in need of protection and help, and he leads his life in a determination to give Lennie that care and protection against the cruelties of the world.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

George promises Lenny's Aunt Clara when she dies that he will look after Lenny and he very loyally does just that. Some of George's reasoning is behind his promise and obligation, but as the men grow closer to one another, it becomes a deep friendship, like brothers, that only the two understand. George is very protective of Lenny and hopes that someday they can have a ranch of their own where Lenny can tend rabbits and stay out of trouble.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team