What Is the Nature of George’s Relationship with Lennie?

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The heart of Of Mice and Men is George’s commitment to Lennie. While George’s character is revealed through how he interacts with Lennie, their relationship accomplishes another purpose. It underscores several themes in the novel, primarily the destructive effects of loneliness on the human spirit that manifest in Candy, Crooks, and Curley’s wife.

Although George tells Slim that he “ain’t got no people,” with Lennie as his friend and traveling companion, George feels the emotional security of having family. Lennie's presence helps George know that he is not completely adrift in the world. George stays with Lennie, despite the difficulty of taking care of him, because leaving Lennie behind would mean being alone.

George’s relationship with Lennie also develops themes of human compassion and of the intrinsic worth of those viewed by society as possessing no value at all. Readers learn that George’s compassion for Lennie was ignited when Lennie almost drowned after following George’s cruel, careless instruction to jump into the Sacramento River; Lennie jumped, even though he couldn’t swim. The incident made George aware of the power he exercised over Lennie and of Lennie’s helplessness and eagerness to please him. George felt ashamed of himself and his actions, and he suddenly felt truly responsible for Lennie. George’s deeply-felt sympathy for Lennie, who is terrified of being abandoned, is evident as he comforts Lennie on the riverbank moments before he must shoot him. Giving Lennie a peaceful, painless death is the ultimate act of compassion and sacrifice in the novel.

George feels more than compassion for Lennie, however. Unlike those who ignore or reject Lennie as an individual, seeing in him only odd behavior, George understands Lennie’s character. There is no meanness in Lennie, no motivation or desire to cause harm; he is innocent. George also recognizes and respects Lennie’s work ethic and perseverance. Slim, wise and observant, recognizes the quality of Lennie’s character, too, confirming George’s judgment. While others have no use for Lennie Small, George’s relationship with him reveals Lennie to be a human of great value, far superior in many ways to others on the ranch.

George Milton

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Extended Character Analysis

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.” He travels with Lennie Small, whom he promised Lennie’s Aunt Clara he would protect. Although most migrant workers travel alone, George finds comfort in traveling with his companion. Through this relationship, George demonstrates his compassion and kindheartedness. 

When he was younger, George treated Lennie heartlessly, going so far as to dare Lennie to jump into the Sacramento River even though he couldn’t swim. When Lennie jumped and nearly drowned, George vowed to never hurt Lennie again and to always protect him. Although Lennie often causes trouble, George sticks by him, often serving as his voice, guardian, and mentor. When the two move to a new job site, George fears Lennie will lose them the job if he speaks. As a result, George speaks on both of their behalves—a practice which often gets the two men in trouble. 

Although George is a migrant worker, he has a vivid imagination and ambitious dreams. Throughout Of Mice and Men, George frequently expresses his desire to be his own boss instead of someone else’s lowly worker who “got no fambly… [and] don’t belong no place.” To soothe both himself and Lennie, George repeats the aspirational refrain of “living offa the fatta the lan’.” He imagines a future for him and Lennie, although he knows that it may never come true. He indulges Lennie’s imagination as well, envisioning a future in which they own their own land, “a little house and a couple of acres.” 

George demonstrates his devotion and loyalty throughout the story, even when he complains about or yells at Lennie. Even in the final tragic moments of the story, he remains dedicated to his friend. As he points the gun at Lennie’s head, George tells Lennie that he’s never been mad at him and he continues indulging Lennie’s imagination by envisioning “a little place… [living] on the fatta the lan’” where Lennie can “tend the rabbits.” By killing Lennie himself, George spares Lennie from suffering at the hands of Curley’s lynch mob. Among all the harsh and unforgiving characters in this Californian migratory society, George is the one character who understands Lennie and his weaknesses. However, despite his tender nature and best efforts, George cannot escape the migratory life. His dreams of owning his own plot of land with Lennie vanish the moment Lennie accidentally kills Curley’s wife. His character demonstrates the cruel realities of living a migratory laborer’s life and the inescapability of moving from the lower to the middle class. Both he and Lennie dream of a new life; however, by the end of the story, George cannot escape and he must continue migrating from one job site to the next. 

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List of Characters


Lennie Small