Why is Lennie's name both ironic and symbolic?

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William Delaney eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Lennie's last name is given to the boss when they have just arrived at the ranch and he is signing them up on his payroll chart. The last name is Small, which is ironic since Lennie is so enormous and so strong that he is sometimes compared to a bear. His last name can be considered symbolic for at least two reasons. One is that he has a small intellect and is dependent on George to tell him what to do. The other reason it can be considered symbolic is more serious and more ominous. Lennie likes small things, including mice, puppies, and rabbits. But he doesn't know his own strength, and he usually ends up killing the little animals while he is petting them. The story ends tragically when he accidentally kills a pretty girl who is married to the jealous and sadistic Curley. George's last name is Milton, which may also be considered symbolic because it reminds the reader of the great English poet John Milton. George is not a poet, but he is good with words and does all the talking for both himself and for his buddy Lennie Small. Milton was blind, and George might be said to be blind to the possible dangers foreshadowed by Lennie's strength, mental weakness, emotional instability, and attraction to soft, fragile creatures.