Why is Lennie socially isolated in Of Mice and Men?

Expert Answers

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

While author John Steinbeck never gives us any specific details on the nature of what makes Lennie Small different, it is immediately apparent that he has an intellectual disability of some kind.

This disability means that Lennie is not able to express himself in ways that are perceived as normal....

See
This Answer Now

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

Get 48 Hours Free Access

While author John Steinbeck never gives us any specific details on the nature of what makes Lennie Small different, it is immediately apparent that he has an intellectual disability of some kind.

This disability means that Lennie is not able to express himself in ways that are perceived as normal. He comes across as a child and needs the help of George, his friend and fellow migrant worker, to obtain jobs.

Lennie has an unfortunate tendency to hurt people physically without having any intention of doing so. At one place of work, Lennie was accused of raping a woman after rubbing her dress inappropriately. In a later incident, Lennie inadvertently kills a woman after becoming entranced with her soft hair.

In a nutshell, the combination of Lennie's brute strength and simple mind makes the other men on the ranch socially isolate him.

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

Lennie is socially isolated by the other workers on the ranch because he is intellectually disabled and a newcomer to the farm. Lennie is depicted as a large man who relies on his close friend George to take care of him. Despite Lennie's impressive physical abilities, he struggles to engage in coherent conversations with the other men on the farm and is regarded as having a low maturity and intelligence level. Lennie is also a newcomer to the farm and shows up with George after fleeing from Weed. The majority of men on the farm are solitary individuals who live transient, difficult lives and are not used to having deep, meaningful friendships like George and Lennie do. Lennie is perceived as an outsider and has yet to gain the men's trust. Lennie is also socially isolated because he spends the majority of his time tending to his new puppy. Lennie does not share the same interests as the other men, does not play cards, and is not mature enough to head into town to drink and socialize with women. His intimidating physique, disabilities, and status as an outsider all contribute to the men socially isolating him on the ranch.

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

Lennie is mentally handicapped. He has the mind of a child, but the strength of a bull. Lennie is mentally slow and socially awkward. He wants nothing more than to pet pretty, soft things. Without George, Lennie is socially isolated because he doesn't quite know how to act in social situations. He would rather talk about puppies and rabbits. In addition, when Lennie gets scared or anxious, he has a tendency to lose control, mentally and physically. This is dangerous because he is so strong. He loses the ability to control himself with Curley and Curley's wife. Because this is always a dangerous potential, George tries to do all of Lennie's talking for him and George tries to watch Lennie at all times. So, even though George does shield Lennie from certain social situations, George is Lennie's conduit to social engagement and conversation. 

But even with George's help, Lennie has a lot of trouble fitting in. He has a child's mind and a giant's body. Lennie is innocent and has no ill intentions at all. But the potential for him to become afraid combined with his brute strength is a lethal combination. This combination forced he and George to leave Weed. And a similar event occurred with Curley's wife, which also forced Lennie to leave the ranch. Here are two examples of how Lennie's loss of control leads to literal social isolation. He functions well enough in a social circle, but he seems to inevitably do something that leads to self-isolation. In other words, he fits in for a while, but his unpredictable behavior usually results in him running away. In running away, he isolates himself from society. 

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team