Chapter 3 Summary and Analysis
Last Updated on June 8, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1647
At dusk, George and Slim enter the bunkhouse after a day of work. George thanks Slim for giving Lennie one of his dog’s pups, and Slim compliments Lennie’s impressive strength. “God awmighty,” he says, “I never seen such a strong guy.”
Slim invites George to talk about his relationship with Lennie, and more details emerge about the two men. Lennie and George grew up in Auburn, where George knew Lennie’s aunt Clara. When Aunt Clara died, Lennie fell in with George. At first, George kept Lennie around for entertainment, because it made him feel good to be the smarter man. Then one day, as a joke, George told Lennie to jump in a river, and he obeyed. But Lennie couldn’t swim, so George had to jump in and save him. George voices guilt over the incident, saying, “An’ he was so damn nice to me for pullin’ him out. Clean forgot I told him to jump in.”
Slim draws from George an explanation of what happened in Weed. Lennie reached out to touch a girl’s pretty red dress. The girl screamed, causing Lennie to panic and grip the dress even tighter. The girl claimed that Lennie raped her, and a lynching party formed to take revenge. Lennie and George fled the scene, hiding in an irrigation ditch and eventually escaping the town.
Lennie returns to the bunkhouse, excited about his new brown and white puppy. He tries to conceal the fact that he has smuggled the pup back to the bunkhouse, but George knows instantly that Lennie has taken the dog from its mother. “You get right up an’ take this pup back to the nest,” he instructs. Lennie obeys. Slim remarks, “He’s jes’ like a kid, ain’t he.”
As Lennie departs, Candy and his old dog enter the bunkhouse. Carlson enters shortly thereafter, and he immediately smells the dog. Carlson lashes out at Candy, saying the dog is “no good to you . . . and no good to himself.” He insists that Candy should shoot the dog. Candy balks at the idea, but Carlson presses the issue. Candy looks to Slim for help, but Slim does not step in. Finally, Candy agrees to allow Carlson to shoot the dog in the back of the head. As Carlson leaves with his gun, Slim reminds Carlson to take a shovel along. He kindly tells Candy that he can have any pup he wants.
After Carlson leaves with the dog, Candy lies on his bed staring at the ceiling while George plays cards with a worker named Whit. When a shot rings out in the distance, all eyes fall on Candy. Wordlessly, Candy turns to face the wall.
Crooks enters the bunkhouse to tell Slim the tar is ready for his mule’s hoof. He also tells Slim that Lennie is out in the barn with the pups. Slim leaves, and George and Whit continue to play cards. The conversation turns to Curley’s wife, and the men discuss her promiscuous reputation. Whit says it seems she “can’t keep away from guys.” Whit also offers to take George into town to visit Susy’s place, a local brothel, where he can purchase whiskey and a “flop” if he wants to. George says he might go have a drink but won’t pay for a “flop.”
Carlson and Lennie return to the bunkhouse. Curley stops by, looking for his wife. When he discovers that she’s not there, he demands to know where Slim is, insinuating that Slim may be with her.
All the men depart the bunkhouse except for George, Lennie, and Candy. George and Lennie talk about various things, including Curley’s wife. Conversation turns to their dream of buying a farm and living off the land. “Tell about that place, George,” Lennie says. George talks about the home they will one day have: ten acres, a windmill, an orchard, and an alfalfa patch where they can grow rabbit food. The scene grows more elaborate as George describes it. He is clearly as entranced with the fantasy as Lennie is.
Both men jump when Candy suddenly speaks; they had forgotten he was in the room. Candy is intrigued by their plan to buy a farm and wants to be a part of it. He offers to chip in his money, about $350, to buy a piece of property that George knows about. After some thought, George says, “I bet we could swing her.” The men make plans to send $100 of Candy’s money as a retainer fee to the current owner of the farm.
The conversation between Lennie, George, and Candy ends when Slim and Curley reenter the bunkhouse. Slim is irritated because Curley keeps asking him if he has seen his wife. “You lay offa me,” Slim snaps, telling Curley to look after his own wife and leave him out of it.
Carlson joins in, saying, “Why’n’t you tell her to stay home where she belongs?” Candy begins to taunt Curley as well. Unable to save face with the men, Curley turns his attention to Lennie. “What the hell you laughin’ at?” he asks Lennie. Curley hits Lennie, trying to provoke him. Lennie freezes in terror, but George encourages him to defend himself. “Get him, Lennie,” George says. “Don’t let him do it.”
Lennie doesn’t like what is happening. “Make ‘um stop, George,” he cries. Slim wants to defend Lennie, but George restrains him. “Get ’im, Lennie!” George commands. Lennie obeys and grabs Curley’s hand, crushing every bone inside it.
The men realize the severity of Curley’s hand injury and decide to take him to the town hospital. Lennie is shaken by what he did, but Slim comforts him, saying, “It ain’t your fault. This punk sure had it comin’ to him.”
Before taking Curley to the hospital, Slim threatens Curley, telling him to keep the incident quiet. If Curley tries to have Lennie fired, he and the others will tell the truth about what happened.
Slim and George reassure Lennie that Curley’s injury is not his fault. Lennie smiles through his bleeding face and bruised mouth. “I can still tend the rabbits, George?” he asks.
Chapter 3 takes place in the bunkhouse, an apt setting for Steinbeck’s recurring theme of the power struggle between men. Inside the bunkhouse, each man’s temperament contributes to the atmosphere, with Carlson’s aggression toward Candy’s dog and Candy’s hopelessness commingling to create a sense of grief and despair as Carlson’s gun rings out.
As George shares personal details with Slim, the friendship between the two men continues to grow. George and Slim have several traits in common: both men are introspective, compassionate, and sensitive. As George talks to Slim about Lennie, readers gain greater insight into why George and Lennie are companions.
It is revealed that George and Lennie grew up in the same town. At the beginning of their relationship, George enjoyed having a kind of intellectual power over Lennie. However, when George told Lennie to jump in a river and Lennie almost drowned, George realized he had taken that power too far. George’s guilt only intensified when Lennie earnestly thanked George for saving his life.
After the incident at the river, George began to choose compassion over power. He still exudes authority over Lennie, but that authority is based on thoughtfulness and care rather than aggression.
When George, Lennie, and Candy decide to merge their financial resources and buy a farm together, George and Lennie’s dream appears to be gaining momentum. Candy, meanwhile, is now captivated by the dream as well. For him, living off the land symbolizes new hope. Candy is so motivated by this hope, in fact, that he commits his entire life savings to the goal. George, incredulous that the dream may actually become a reality, repeats, “I bet we could swing her.”
Tension builds in chapter 3 on two fronts. The struggle between Carlson and Candy continues, with Carlson insisting that Candy euthanize his old dog. While both men know that a mercy killing is the right thing to do, Candy is too weak to acknowledge this, let alone act on it. Carlson, however, exerts his power and takes charge of the situation.
When Carlson gently beckons the dog out of the bunkhouse, he demonstrates a degree of tenderness, despite the violence of his intentions. . Candy remains immobilized as Carlson leads the blind dog out to be killed. His despair is palpable in the bunkhouse as he lies on his bed, staring at the ceiling and waiting for the shot to ring out.
Tension also builds around the issue of Curley’s wife, whom the men agree has a roving eye. The men blame Curley for this, viewing it as a result of his weakness. Slim, Carlson, and even Candy, in his weakened state, join Slim in rebuking Curley for his inability to control his wife.
With Slim, Carlson, and Candy uniting against Curley, there is no question of who holds the power during this argument. Humiliated, Curley finds himself backed into a corner, much like a defenseless animal. In an attempt to save face, he lashes out physically at Lennie, confirming what Candy told the men in chapter 2: that Curley has a habit of “picking scraps with big guys.”
The fight between Curley and Lennie demonstrates a power struggle between two men who are weak in different ways. Curley attacks Lennie, hitting him in the face so hard that Lennie bleeds. At first, Lennie does not retaliate, and Curley maintains control. That control is short-lived, however, as George instructs Lennie to fight back. Because George exerts so much authority over Lennie, Lennie eventually complies, grabbing Curley’s hand and crushing it. This fateful struggle foreshadows tragic consequences at the end of the book.