Last Updated on February 11, 2021, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 511
Extended Character Analysis
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.” He resembles a “bear” who “drags his paws” and “his feet a little.” George and the other laborers frequently remark on Lennie’s formidable strength. Many compare him to a bull, and Slim states that he has “never seen such a worker… such a strong guy.” He remarks, “ain’t nobody can keep up with him.”
Although Lennie may be the strongest man on the farm, he “ain’t no fighter,” as George states. Lennie is stronger and more powerful than even he realizes, and he often accidentally kills the rabbits and mice whose soft fur he likes to pet. Although never explicitly mentioned, readers may infer that Lennie has an intellectual disability. He is often described as childlike, and he requires George’s assistance to obtain jobs. Lennie also values George’s companionship because George shares his dream of living “on the fatta the lan’” with his beloved rabbits.
Lennie gets into trouble when others perceive his huge stature as menacing. Lennie may be large and physically intimidating, but he is kind and innocent by nature. He never means to hurt animals or anyone, but his incredible strength and mental limitations often unintentionally result in violence. At George and Lennie’s previous job in Weed, which they had to flee from, Lennie was accused of raping a woman after he forcibly rubbed her dress. At their current job in the Salinas Valley, Lennie’s innocent actions result in violence and death. When Curley instigates a fight, Lennie refrains from fighting back until George orders him to retaliate; when Lennie becomes enamored with Curley’s wife’s soft hair, he loses control of his faculties and accidentally kills her.
Although to many characters Lennie comes across as mentally impaired, the more perceptive and empathetic characters, like George and Slim, recognize that Lennie is simply incapable of expressing himself in conventional ways. He may not speak in the most eloquent manner, but he is still capable of thinking and dreaming. In the final moments of the story, when Lennie flees the ranch, Lennie has a series of visions of his Aunt Clara and a speaking rabbit. Through these visions, Lennie is finally capable of expression: he communicates his desires to live on his own plot of land and he conveys that he feels unworthy of George’s unwavering companionship. As Steinbeck once wrote, Lennie demonstrates the inability to articulate the “powerful yearning of all men.” He fails to express his dreams partly because he is never taken seriously by the other men in the story. He simply does not fit into this society—his brute strength and mental limitations come across as threatening, and his unintentional violence results in several deaths, including his own.