Last Reviewed on May 28, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1051
On the bank of the Salinas River, Lennie emerges from the brush where George previously told him to hide should things go wrong. Lennie reviews George’s instructions aloud, saying, “Hide in the brush and wait for George.” His mind buzzes with confusing thoughts and memories. As he did before, he considers running off to a cave and leaving George for good. He hallucinates his Aunt Clara and a large rabbit, both of whom taunt him for his failures at the ranch and in life.
Suddenly, George emerges from the brush. The hallucinations vanish, and Lennie returns to reality. “I done another bad thing,” Lennie confesses. George answers calmly, “It don’t make no difference.”
In the distance, the voices of the men in the search party can be heard. The men are coming for Lennie, but Lennie doesn’t seem to realize it. For the moment, George and Lennie are alone. Lennie asks George why he isn’t angry about what Lennie did at the ranch: “Ain’t you gonna give me hell?”
George responds that he isn’t angry, and the men return to some of the same conversations they had in chapter 1. Lennie reminds George of his earlier litany of complaints, as if asking George to repeat them, and George monotonously says that he could be enjoying himself in a brothel if Lennie weren’t around; Lennie offers again to go off and live in a cave. George reassures Lennie that he wants Lennie to stay with him.
When Lennie begs George to “tell me like you done before,” George reviews the story of their friendship. He tells Lennie that the two of them are not like the others, because they have each other. George’s words make Lennie excited and happy.
George tells Lennie to take off his hat. Lennie obeys and says, “Tell how it’s gonna be.” George launches into the familiar narrative about how the two of them are going to “get a little place” and live off the fat of the land. As George tells Lennie about the cows, pigs, chickens, and rabbits they will enjoy, he raises his gun and cocks it behind Lennie’s head.
The voices of the search party draw close. George reassures Lennie again that he isn’t angry with him. He pulls the trigger, and Lennie falls forward in the sand, dead. Just then, Slim appears and sees that George has killed Lennie. Calmly, he sits beside George and says, “Never you mind. A guy got to sometimes.”
Slim and George leave together to have a drink.
The setting of chapter 6 is the same as that of chapter 1: the bank of the Salinas River. This time, however, Lennie enters the scene without George. He drinks from the river as he did in chapter 1, but this time, instead of guzzling the water, his lips barely touch it. This contrast in Lennie’s portrayal highlights the fact that life has beaten Lennie down. Without George by his side—and worried that George will be angry with him for killing Curley’s wife—Lennie is less spirited than he was at the beginning of the story.
Alone, Lennie’s mind churns: visions of Aunt Clara and a large talking rabbit taunt him, forcing him to recall old arguments and past failures. The rabbit repeats, “He gonna leave ya, crazy bastard,” a fear that Crooks put into Lennie’s head in chapter 4. Without George’s guidance, Lennie is unable to make sense of his thoughts and feelings.
George’s significance in Lennie’s life is highlighted by the fact that George’s arrival causes Lennie’s mind to clear immediately. The hallucinations and self-recriminating thoughts vanish. Lennie is happy to see George but confused by the fact that George doesn’t seem angry. Instead, and unbeknownst to Lennie, George is evidently resigned to what he knows he must do.
In their final moments together, George and Lennie repeat familiar conversations that have taken on the quality of comforting rituals. These repeated dialogues bring the story full circle: George is able to affirm the value of their relationship while simultaneously bringing it to an end. His motivations for killing Lennie are twofold. First, he wants to spare Lennie a vindictive and likely brutal murder by Curley and the mob. Second, he realizes that Lennie, with his poor impulse control, may be destined to inadvertently kill again.
Killing Lennie is, for George, a final act of compassion, love, and friendship. Taking care of Lennie over the years has been an act of continual sacrifice, and this final choice is yet another. George has always had power over Lennie, but he assumes the ultimate power now, taking great pains to calm Lennie and ease him into a peaceful state of mind before his death.
The scene of Lennie’s murder recalls chapter 3, when Carlson insisted upon killing Candy’s dog. Like the dog, Lennie is a helpless creature whose death is imminent. Much like Carlson and Candy in chapter 3, George understands what needs to be done; however, he is not eager to do it, and he does not kill Lennie because he “stinks” or is otherwise a nuisance, like the dog. Rather, George kills Lennie because he believes it is the most humane thing to do.
As Lennie dies, Slim arrives on the scene, symbolizing the restorative power of companionship. He sits beside George and offers comfort. The two men go off to have a drink together, solidifying the friendship that has been growing between them and implying that Slim may become George’s companion now.
As George and Slim depart the scene, Carlson looks at them and asks, “Now what the hell ya suppose is eatin’ them two guys?” These are the final words of the story, and they are significant because other characters, particularly Curley and his father, have incessantly questioned the nature of the friendship between George and Lennie. Now, without missing a beat, Carlson begins to question the nature of the friendship between George and Slim.
In chapter 2, Slim said, “Ain’t many guys travel around together. I don’t know why.” Although the story is a tragedy, a slight glimmer of hope appears when Slim arrives on the scene of Lennie’s death and offers his consolation and company.
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