Why are George and Lennie different from other guys who work on ranches?
During their conversation in the first chapter, both Lennie and George make it obvious why they are different. Lennie urges George to speak about them and George states that ranch workers, which they are, "are the loneliest guys in the world". They have no family and don't belong anywhere. Such men come to work on a ranch, earn an income and then spend it all in town and are soon back on a different ranch working their butts off because they do not have anything to look forward to. This suggests that their lives are purposeless and without meaning.
He then states that he and Lennie, however, are different. They have a future and somebody to talk with and who cares about them. He says that they do not need to sit in a bar and spend all their money just because they have nowhere to go. He emphasizes the lost nature of the other ranch hands by stating that if they should land up in prison no one would care about them. They might just rot away in jail. It is not the same with him and Lennie for they have each other. They care about one another and if anything happens to the other, he can rely on his partner for help. Lennie affirms this by saying:
"... Because... because I got you to look after me, and you got me to look after you, and that's why."
The discussion of their unique situation becomes a refrain throughout the novel. The two men find comfort in the fact that, unlike other migrant workers, they both have someone to rely on and they are family. The "future" that George alludes to is that he and Lennie are planning to put together a stake and then buy ten acres of land. This is their ultimate goal. As Lennie repeatedly states, they will live "offa the fatta the lan'" once they have acquired their piece of real estate. Unlike the other men, they are working towards something. They have a plan and they know where they are going to.
The two are clearly excited about their future. it is obvious that they are serious about achieving their goal for George is not even prepared to spend too much money in town when he decides to hang out with the boys at Susy's place. He states that he and Lennie are "rolling up" a stake. Their ideal so invigorates and excites the two men that Candy, the swamper, eavesdrops into their conversation and becomes drawn in by their dream. George is at first reticent about letting him in, but once Candy convinces them that he has money available that can make the dream become a reality sooner, he becomes their partner.
George becomes lyrical when he realizes that their goal is within their grasp. Realizing this ultimate dream would show how truly different they actually are. They would not have to rely on anybody but themselves and would be able to make decisions about whom they befriend or reject and determine their own destinies. The dream is an invigorating inspiration to the three men.
In an unfortunate and ironic twist of fate, the dream is destroyed when Lennie becomes involved in a situation with Curley's wife in the barn and accidentally kills her. George, in the end, out of love and compassion for his dearest friend and companion, kills him before Curley and his men get to him. He spares Lennie the indignity of Curley's vengeance and malice.
George and Lennie are like the other men in every way, except in one very significant way. They are friends. In Steinbeck's book, one of the most significant and tragic points is that there are no friendships. This is why Slim is so surprised that George and Lennie travel together. Here is what Slim says:
“Ain’t many guys travel around together,” he mused. “I don’t know why. Maybe ever’body in the whole damn world is scared of each other.”
Hence, George and Lennie's friendship is what sets them apart, and the men know this. Listen to what George says to Lennie, who listens in agreement.
Guys like us, that work on ranches, are the loneliest guys in the world. They got no family. They don’t belong no place. . . . With us it ain’t like that. We got a future. We got somebody to talk to that gives a damn about us.
Even at the end of the book, George is a faithful friend. We might not agree with what he did, but what motivated George's decision is his love for Lennie. George believed that that men would harm Lennie and kill him in a far worse manner than if he shot him. So, George's loyalty to Lennie made him take his life.