Of Mice and Men Characters
The main characters in Of Mice and Men are George Milton, Lennie Small, Candy, Curley, and Curley's wife.
- George Milton is Lennie’s friend and protector. He shoots Lennie in the back of the head rather than allow him to be killed by a lynch mob.
- Lennie Small is a physically strong migrant worker with developmental disabilities.
- Candy is an elderly ranch hand who offers to join George and Lennie in their plan to buy their own farm.
- Curley is the boss's son. He foolishly picks a fight with Lennie.
- Curley’s wife is the lonely woman who Lennie accidentally kills.
One of the protagonists of Of Mice and Men, George Milton is a shrewd migrant worker “with restless eyes and sharp, strong features.” In many ways, he resembles a mouse: “Every part of him was defined: small, strong hands, slender arms, a thin and bony nose.” (Read our extended character analysis of George Milton.)
Lennie Small, George’s companion and fellow migrant laborer, is not “small” at all. Lennie’s ironic last name highlights how the two main protagonists, Lennie and George, represent a study in contrasts. While George is small and shrewd, Lennie is a “huge man, shapeless of face, with large, pale eyes, and wide, sloping shoulders.” (Read our extended character analysis of Lennie Small.)
Curley is the son of the ranch owner. He is characterized by his curled hair, hot temper, and “pugnacious and calculating” glance. Once a Golden Glove finalist and lightweight boxer, Curley vainly and incorrectly believes he can physically defeat men who are larger than he is. He often fights with bigger men to demonstrate his strength. When he wins, he is seen as strong; when he loses, he is seen as a martyr. Despite his machismo, Curley is cowardly. He often worries that his wife is flirting with other men, and he makes excuses to explain away his crushed hand after Lennie fights and defeats him. When his wife dies, Curley is more preoccupied with vengeance than with mourning her. Although the laborers encourage Curley to stay with his wife’s body, he vows to “shoot the guts outa that big bastard [him]self.”
The only female character in the story, Curley’s wife is frequently referred to as the “tramp” and the “tart.” She wears a velvet red dress and has “full, rouged lips,” “wide-spaced eyes,” red fingernails, and “hair hung in little rolled clusters, like sausages.” Lonely and unfulfilled, Curley’s wife—who goes unnamed throughout the story—once had dreams of becoming a movie star. Now that she lives on Curley’s ranch, she simply seeks human connection. However, her actions and appearance come off as lascivious and adulterous to many of the characters. George comments that Curley’s wife is “poison” for flirting with so many of the men on the ranch, and he warns Lennie to steer clear of her. However, impressed by Lennie’s strength and ability to best her husband in a fight, Curley’s wife approaches Lennie. He becomes enamored with her soft velvet dress and hair, and when Curley’s wife tries to wriggle away, Lennie accidentally kills her. The death of this unnamed character dashes George and Lennie’s desires; when she dies, Lennie must die as well, and George is left to survive the harsh migratory worker’s life alone.
Candy is a one-handed, “stoop-shouldered” elderly ranch hand. His offers to contribute his life savings of $350 to Lennie and George in order to help them achieve their dream of living on their own plot of land. This offer makes their dream seem more realistic, at least at first. Like Candy, his dog is old and disabled. Carlson kills Candy’s dog to put him out of his misery, a moment that mirrors how George eventually kills Lennie in order to save him from Curley’s lynch mob.
Carlson is a mechanic on the ranch. His inability to feel empathy for others exemplifies the general hostility and indifference experienced by migrant laborers. He volunteers to shoot Candy’s dog, using the same gun George later steals in order to kill Lennie. Carlson is unfeeling and callous. After George shoots Lennie, and he and Slim walk away,...
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Carlson wonders, “Now what the hell ya suppose is eatin’ them two guys?”
The only black stable hand, Crooks is generally ostracized from the other migrant laborers. He lives alone, and only speaks to Lennie and Candy once, telling them that their dream of having their own plot of land is unrealistic. He has a crooked back as a result of being kicked in the back by a horse.
Slim, a skilled jerkline skinner, or mule driver, is respected as an authority figure on the ranch. Slim is a tall man with “hands, large and lean… as delicate in their action as those of a temple dancer.” He moves “with a majesty achieved only by royalty and master craftsmen,” and he has a “gravity in his manner and a quiet so profound that all talk stopped when he spoke.” He has “God-like” eyes that seem to “fasten” on George when he speaks. He demonstrates more perception and understanding than any of the other characters. He is the only character, besides George, who understands that Lennie isn’t cruel or threatening. When George kills Lennie, Slim consoles him, the only character to show such compassion. A quiet and perceptive man, Slim serves as one of the most empathetic characters of the novella.
Like his son, Curley, the unnamed boss is hot-tempered and vain. He frequently abuses Crooks, the black stable hand. He wears high-heeled boots to demonstrate that he is not a worker. When George and Lennie arrive at the ranch, the boss is suspicious of the pair. Although he hires them, he questions why George doesn’t let Lennie speak.
A friendly young laborer on the ranch, Whit enjoys playing cards and talking with the other workers.