Why does George take the dead mouse away from Lennie in Of Mice and Men?
The first chapter of Of Mice and Men introduces readers to Lennie and George as well as to the setting of the Salinas River and valley. The men stop at the river for the evening after hiking for several miles to get to their new job. The contrast between the two men is striking, with Lennie's height and bear-like movements stressed. George's angular features and compact build, along with his quick and decisive movements allow the reader to notice Lennie's mental handicap quickly.
After a few moments of interaction, the conversation turns to what's in Lennie's pocket. Although he tries to hide it, much like a child would try to hide something from a parent, George makes Lennie show him what he has in his pocket. The object is a dead mouse. Lennie has been petting the dead mouse for most of their hike. Apparently this is a pretty common occurrence for Lennie, who loves to touch soft things, like fur. George takes the mouse away from Lennie, throwing it away into the brush by their campsite.
When George asks Lennie to go get firewood, Lennie attempts to surreptitiously pocket the mouse's corpse. George knows what he's up to, however, and forces him to give up the mouse's body again, throwing it across the river this time. When Lennie begins to cry, George explains why he had to take the corpse away from him:
"Aw, Lennie!" George put his hand on Lennie's shoulder. "I ain't takin' it away jus' for meanness. That mouse ain't fresh, Lennie; and besides, you've broke it pettin' it. You get another mouse that's fresh and I'll let you keep it a little while." (9)
The fact that Lennie kills mice doesn't really seem to bother George as much as the fact that Lennie is toting around a dead mouse. Any corpse will eventually decay. George grows increasingly frustrated with Lennie's behavior following this exchange. Exasperated, George starts to complain about how his life would be easier without Lennie in it.
George takes the mouse away from Lennie because it is dead and will rot. George says that the mouse isn't fresh and that he has to take it away because Lennie always kills them. This scene is the reader's first introduction to George and Lennie's relationship and there is quite a lot to take in. We find out that Lennie likes to touch soft things, like fur. We also find out that Lennie doesn't really seem to know his own strength, which is why the mice end up dead in the first place.
Apparently, Lennie's Aunt Clara also used to let him play with mice, but he always killed them, so she stopped doing that. When the men begin to recount their own American Dream of owning their own place and being their own bosses, Lennie focuses on the idea of owning rabbits - a furry animal that he might not accidentally kill. George also brings up the idea of getting Lennie a puppy, in the hopes that a larger animal might be something that Lennie can handle.
The key idea in discussing the dead mice lies in the fact that Lennie really doesn't know his own strength and doesn't mean to kill them. The dead mouse, accidentally killed by Lennie, foreshadows Lennie's actions later on in the book with both Curley's wife and the pup.