Discuss George and Lennie's friendship in Of Mice and Men.

Quick answer:

The friendship between George and Lennie in Of Mice and Men is parental. George teaches Lennie, keeps him safe, and usually speaks to others for him because Lennie is timid and easily confused. Lennie is reassured and pleased by George's protective actions. This is somewhat ironic because as a big, strong man, Lennie could easily protect himself, at least from physical threats.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The friendship between George and Lennie in Of Mice and Men is more like the relationship between family members. There are occasional times when the two seem like brothers or cousins, but most of the time, George seems like the parent to Lennie. He protects and instructs Lennie. For instance, when the two are making their trek to find work, they are thirsty and come upon a body of water. Lennie immediately drinks because he is thirsty. George, however, instructs Lennie that this is not a wise thing to do. He says,

Tastes all right. ... Don't really seem to be running, though. You never oughta drink water when it ain't running, Lennie. ... You'd drink out of a gutter if you was thirsty.

Further on, George asks Lennie if he has remembered his work card and bus ticket. Lennie’s hand clutches at his coat pocket, but he realizes that he does not have his card and ticket. In response, George says,

I got both of 'em here. Think I'd let you carry your own work card?

George also usually speaks for Lennie when others are present. This is because Lennie is fearful of outsiders and gets confused. For instance, when the two men apply for work, the boss asks where they have been working. George answers that they had been working “up around Weed.” The manager asks if that applies to Lennie, as well. Before Lennie even has a chance to respond, George answers. When the boss says that Lennie “ain’t much of a talker," George boasts,

No, he ain't, but he's sure a hell of a good worker. Strong as a bull.

Far from resenting George for his parental stance and authority, Lennie is happy and comforted by it. He smiles when George focuses on him and he looks to George for protection. In the scene with the boss after George boasts about Lennie’s strength, Lennie smiles to himself and repeats "strong as a bull" in his childlike manner.

That Lennie looks to George for protection is somewhat ironic, as Lennie is a large man who possesses great strength, which is an element of the move towards the climax of the book.

George was not always as nice to Lennie as he is now. However, as he grew to understand Lennie, he realizes that he needs to take care of him because Lennie would not really be able to survive on his own. When the boss asks George why he stays with Lennie, George responds,

“Why ya think I'm sellin' him out?"

"Well, I never seen one guy take so much trouble for another guy. I just like to know what your interest is."

George said, "He's my ... cousin. I told his old lady I'd take care of him. He got kicked in the head by a horse when he was a kid. He's awright. Just ain't bright. But he can do anything you tell him."

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

George and Lennie have a strange relationship in the novel. George is the smaller man, who is smart and works hard, but he is eternally bound and bonded to Lennie, a much larger man who is mentally deficient. Lennie is constantly getting himself and George, by association, into trouble because he doesn’t understand his own strength. Despite the trouble that Lennie puts George through, it is apparent that George cares deeply for Lennie and that they have been friends and quasi-brothers for many years.

The extent of George’s care for Lennie can be seen clearly in the care he takes to kill Lennie gently at the end of the novel. George has Lennie describe their fairytale farm, the land they planned to buy together, while he uses the stolen gun to shoot Lennie to save him from the lynch mob. George loves Lennie deeply, enough that he doesn’t want to see his friend in pain, but it's also easy to recognize the cost of this sacrifice because they have been bonded together for so long.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

George and Lennie are sustained by their friendship with each other, which is depicted in the novel as a rare situation among the migrant workers.

At first, their relationship might appear dysfunctional: Lennie comes across in the first chapter as whiny and manipulative while George seems abrasive and bullying. Nevertheless, we quickly discover that they depend on each other.

Lennie's dependency on George is apparent. As a mentally handicapped man, Lennie is utterly reliant on George's guidance to survive. George tells Lennie what to do and how to behave so they both can get hired at the ranch.

George's dependence on Lennie is more subtle. He desperately needs Lennie's companionship or life on the road would become unbearably lonely for him. Further, he likes being in charge. Sometimes--or often--he get impatient and frustrated with Lennie, but he also needs somebody who will be guided by him. He takes seriously his role as Lennie's caretaker.

Most importantly, their companionship helps them stay focused on their shared dream and goal of owning their own farm and in that way, achieving independence and escape from the life of migrant work.

The other ranch hands have some envy of the friendship Lennie and George share--and most are deeply attracted to the idea of owning a small farm. Together, Lennie and George are much stronger than apart.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

George Milton and Lennie Small have a unique friendship and travel throughout the western United States together looking for work. Unlike the majority of migrant workers, who travel alone, George and Lennie stick together, and their comradery makes their difficult, unpredictable lives significantly easier. They get along most of the time and provide each other with much-needed social interaction and moral support.

George and Lennie grew up together in Auburn, Alabama, and George promised Lennie's Aunt Clara that he would look after him when she passed away. Since Lennie is intellectually disabled, George assumes the role of his guardian and protector. In turn, Lennie's comradery and friendship help George endure his difficult life as a migrant worker. Both George and Lennie also share the same dream, which is to live together on their own estate, where they plan to "live off the fatta lan'." George values independence, and Lennie simply wants to raise and pet fluffy rabbits. Although Lennie continually frustrates George and keeps them in hot water, George remains loyal to him and tries his best to protect Lennie at all costs. Tragically, George is forced to kill Lennie out of mercy at the end of the story to prevent Curley's lynch mob from torturing him.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

George and Lennie are like family. They are companions. George had promised Lennie's aunt that he would take care of Lennie. George is true to his word. George claims that the two of them would be lonely without each other:

Guys like us, that work on ranches, are the loneliest guys in the world. They got no family. They don’t belong no place. . . . With us it ain’t like that. We got a future. We got somebody to talk to that gives a damn about us. 

George and Lennie have a bond as they migrate from ranch to ranch. Lennie is often found in trouble; therefore, George has to take Lennie and run to another location. Truly, George gets frustrated with Lennie, but he continues to support Lennie, even when he gets in trouble. George needs Lennie as much as Lennie needs George.  

George and Lennie dream together. They dream of having their own farm one day. This dream keeps them going. Lennie asks George to repeat the dream of having their own farm. George does so. He repeats the dream of having a farm with a garden and rabbits for Lennie to tend to. Is is a beautiful dream. 

No doubt, shooting Lennie is the most difficult decision George has to make. Even in death, George is showing how much he cares about Lennie. George does not desire for Lennie to be hung at the hands of Curley. George prevents Lennie from suffering when he shoots him. Of course, George will be one of the loneliest guys in the world without Lennie. His will to dream is over:

When George is driven to shoot Lennie after Lennie accidentally kills Curley's wife, he destroys his own dream, too. Its fulfillment is doomed by insensitive materialists. Along with the destruction of his dream, George loses the chance to become a better man.

Lennie made George a better man. 

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In Of Mice and Men, describe the ways in which Lennie and George are opposites of one another. 

George and Lennie differ in their physical appearance, mental abilities, personalities, and desires throughout the novella. George is described as being "small and quick," with a dark face, restless eyes, and strong features. In contrast, Lennie is a massive individual, who is described as having a shapeless face, pale eyes, and sloping shoulders. Unlike George, who is an active, intense man, Lennie is rather lethargic and moves slowly. In regards to their intelligence, George is an acute, discerning man, who makes decisions for the two of them. Lennie is portrayed as mentally handicapped and relies on George to take care of him. George and Lennie also have different personalities. George is rather aggressive and outspoken, while Lennie is relatively quiet and passive. Lennie is rather docile but lacks self-control and relies on George to keep him in line. George is also more authoritative and has a short temper. In regards to their desires, George wishes to live a comfortable life, where he is in control of his fate and does not have to travel from farm to farm looking for work. Lennie is much easier to please and simply wants something furry to pet, preferably a rabbit.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In Of Mice and Men, describe the ways in which Lennie and George are opposites of one another. 

In the first few paragraphs, the narrator describes the physical characteristics of George and Lennie. These physical traits are similar to their personalities. Therefore, Lennie and George are opposites in physical stature, demeanor, and in terms of their personalities. 

The first man was small and quick, dark of face, with restless eyes and sharp, strong features. Every part of him was defined: small, strong hands, slender arms, a thin and bony nose. Behind him walked his opposite, a huge man, shapeless of face, with large, pale eyes, and wide, sloping shoulders; and he walked heavily, dragging his feet a little, the way a bear drags his paws. 

As they begin to converse, it becomes quickly apparent that George is the leader of the duo and Lennie is the follower. In fact, their relationship is quite similar to a parent-child relationship with George, of course, being the parent. Lennie lets his mind wander, often to the dream of having a farm and the rabbits. George shares this dream but his mind is always conscious of his environment. When Lennie is daydreaming about the rabbits, George is thinking about the next job and how to keep Lennie in line. In times of crisis or confrontation, Lennie panics and George keeps his head. They are opposites in almost every way except for the fact that they are both good people who look out for each other. 

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

How does the author in Of Mice and Men bring out the differences between Lennie and George?

There are several methods of characterization that authors use.

  1. through a physical description of the character
  2. through the character's action
  3. through the character's thoughts, feelings, and speeches
  4. through the comments and reactions of other characters.
  5. through direct statements giving the writer's opinion of the character.

The first 4 are indirect methods, while 5. is direct characterization.

Of course, the most obvious difference between Lennie and George is their physical size and strength. In the first pages of "Of Mice and Men," John Steinbeck masterfully describes Lennie who goes through the bushes "as silently as a creeping bear":

Lennie dabbled his big paw in the water and wiggled his big fingers so the water arose in little splashes; rings widened across the pool to the other side and came back again.  Lennie watched them go.  'Look, George.  Look what I done.'

Not only does the reader become aware that Lennie is crudely large ("paw"), but he/she also realizes that Lennie has a simpleness about him like an animal and a child.  For, he plays with the water and then asks George to look at what he has done much like a child addressing a parent.  The incorrect verb usage is indicative of childishness and/or lack of education/intelligence, as well.

Lennie's name is wryly ironic:  Lennie Small. For, he is a huge, strong man ("creeping bear"), yet he is mentally handicapped.  Dependent upon George after the death of his aunt, Lennie is doomed to be a migrant worker.  And, he has only survived because of the intelligence of George, who has helped him elude retaliation after he wanted to feel a girl's dress and she screamed in fear.

Although Steinbeck describes them as dressed alike, the men differ greatly in both physical mental qualities. George, is "small and quick, dark of face with restless eyes and sharp strong features," and Lennie is offish, "shapeless of face with large pale eyes, sloping shoulders...dragging his feet a little, the way a bear drags its paws." Unlike Lennie, George is able to assess a situation.  He scolds Lennie for talking to Crooks, the alienated black hustler, telling Lennie to leave him alone.  He warns Lennie to not bother Slim or Curley or Curley's wife.  While playing cards one night, George asks Lennie is the girl was in the barn when Lennie went in to talk to Slim, "You sure that girl didn't come in like she come in here today?"  When Lennie replies "no," George remarks that a woman in a whore house is less trouble:

A guy can go in ...and get ever'thing outa his system all at once, an' no messes...Thee here jail baits is just set on the trigger of the hoosegow.

Lennie, on the other hand, is incapable of any such perception.  Like a child, he wants to have a puppy to pet and looks to George for direction.  When the hostile Curley confronts him, Lennie waits until George tells him it is all right to strike the man.

Yet,while George's acumen in assessing people and situations is in sharp contrast to Lennie's, they both understand how important it is to have a friend; they both know the vulnerability of the soul:

Guy like us, that work on ranches are the loneliest guys in the world.  They got no family...With us it ain't like that.  We got a future.  We got somebody to talk to that gives a damn.  We don't have to sit in no bar room blowin' in our jack jus' because we got no place else to go.

With all the differences among men, Steinbeck masterfully utilizes the marked contrasts between Lennie and George to communicate that there is a yearning in all that is universal.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

A description in detail of George and Lennie in Of Mice and Men.

John Steinbeck wanted to write about the plight of California farm workers. He also had an opportunity to write a play on the subject to be produced in New York. Book and play both came out in 1937 and made Steinbeck famous.

Steinbeck called Of Mice and Men “a playable novel,” that is, a novel that read like a stage play and could be converted very easily because it emphasized dialogue and action while minimizing authorial input, such as exposition, commentary, transition, and summation. Steinbeck ran into many plotting problems--but problems are often opportunities in disguise. Because the story was to read like a play, and converted into a play, Steinbeck needed, not one, but two main characters who would convey their bitterness, problems, worries and dreams in conversation.

So Steinbeck needed two bindlestiffs motivated by the dream of escaping from wage slavery. He knew this could sound a bit kinky. Normally it is a man and a woman who want to own a farm and raise a family. Family farms were still the paradigm all across America. But Steinbeck could not have a female bindlestiff who hopped freight trains, slept in bunkhouses, and did back-breaking field labor from sunup to sundown. It would not be impossible to have a man and woman bumming around together looking for work, but it would not be representative of the reality Steinbeck knew.

Both Steinbeck and his character George Milton sound apologetic and defensive about the relationship between George and Lennie. In Chapter Three the subject is brought out into the open.

Slim moved back slightly so the light was not on his face. “Funny how you an’ him string along together.”

“What’s funny about it?” George demanded defensively.

George answers “defensively” because he has been questioned and kidded about this before. He explains how he promised Aunt Clara to look after Lennie and how the two got used to traveling around together. But this explanation is intended for the reader. It is typical of the way Steinbeck handles exposition in his “playable novel,” because this is how exposition will have to be handled in the play.

Earlier the boss also shows suspicion of the relationship between George and Lennie.

The boss deliberately put the little book in his pocket. He hooked his thumbs in his belt and squinted one eye nearly closed. “Say—what you sellin’?”

“Huh?”

“I said what stake you got in this guy? You takin’ his pay away from him?”

“No, ‘course I ain’t. Why ya think I’m sellin’ him out?”

“Well, I never seen one guy take so much trouble for another guy. I just like to know what your interest is.”

Steinbeck realized that if two normal men started living together on their own farm, many people would think they were gay. So he considered making one leading character handicapped and in need of care. But if one was physically handicapped, that would detract from a realistic picture of itinerant farm laborers. It was okay for two buddies to bum around together looking for work, but it was not okay—at least in the 1930’s--for them to set up housekeeping on their own little spread. It occurred to Steinbeck that one of them could be mentally handicapped—and this inspiration led to the creation of Lennie Small, who turned out to be the most interesting character in the book, the play, and the two film adaptations.

If one man was mentally handicapped, the other would have to explain everything to him and in some cases explain several times. Thus all kinds of information could be conveyed through dialogue. Steinbeck was one of the best dialogue writers of his time, often compared with Hemingway. Steinbeck’s dialogue writing can be appreciated in Of Mice and Men but even more in his masterpiece The Grapes of Wrath. Most of what we know about George and Lennie we learn from what they say to each other. Lennie had to be mentally handicapped to explain why two men dream of having a farm together, and he had to be exceptionally big and strong to explain how he could be a farm worker at all.

Steinbeck saw that two characters who were friends but quite different would give his story a uniqueness without detracting from its realism. George would be a little talkative guy with a sharp mind, while Lennie would be a big inarticulate guy with exceptional physical strength to compensate for his weak brain. George would tell Lennie what to do, and Lennie would provide protection in the tough world of hungry, homeless men riding the rails and sleeping in hobo jungles.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

A description in detail of George and Lennie in Of Mice and Men.

Though Lennie and George are close friends and travelling companions, they are completely different in nearly all respects. The first portrayal that we are given of them stresses this contrast. George is 'small', 'quick', 'restless', and 'sharp' while Lennie is explicitly presented as his 'opposite'.  Lennie is 'huge' (although, in a comic touch, his surname is 'Small'). While George is said to have a 'defined' figure Lennie is referred to as being 'shapeless' in form. He moves slowly and ponderously:

He walked heavily, dragging his feet a little, the way a bear drags his paws. (chapter 1)

Lennie is thus compared to a bear; and this use of animal imagery to describe him is significant. Lennie is animal-like due to his lack of intellect, although he has a warm, affectionate nature, like a child. However, as he is unable to control his huge strength, he is also dangerous; like a bear, or some other such huge animal, he is capable of inflicting physical harm on others, as demonstrated throughout the book. His tragedy, though, is that he never means to hurt anybody, unlike other, supposedly more intelligent human beings - the belligerent Curley, for instance.

The opening external descriptions of these two men, George and Lennie, are therefore very revealing. George's swiftness of movement, his alert attitude, indicate his sharp, quick-thinking nature, while Lennie's slow, clumsy gait and gestures disclose his mental backwardness. 

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

A description in detail of George and Lennie in Of Mice and Men.

George and Lennie are fictitious characters created by John Steinbeck.

Steinbeck wanted to write a story dramatizing the hard lives of itinerant farm workers in California. At the same time he planned to convert the story into a stage play. The play was produced in New York the same year the book came out, in 1937. This proves that Steinbeck was writing his novella in such a way that it could easily be adapted to the stage.

He needed not one but two central characters who have a dream about owning their own farm. If he had only been writing a piece of fiction, he could have used a single character, as Knut Hamsun (aka Knut Pedersen) did in his great novel Growth of the Soil, and written in the third person. But in a stage play exposition has to be conveyed in dialogue. So Steinbeck needed two men who wanted to own their own farm together.

This relationship, however, sounds a little peculiar. Readers have asked about their relationship. Some have wondered if they were gay. Normally it is a man and a woman who share the dream of owning their own farm. But Steinbeck could not have a man and woman traveling around in boxcars and sleeping on the ground. And a woman could not get jobs as a farm laborer. Steinbeck needed two men, and he needed them both to be motivated by the dream of owning their own farm together.

He came up with the idea of making one of them mentally retarded. Thus was born Lennie Small. He was exceptionally big and strong to make up for his lack of intelligence. Steinbeck saw the advantage in having one of them mentally incompetent. It meant that George would always have to be explaining and re-explaining things to him, and in the process George would be explaining everything about their past, present and future to the reader and eventually to the theater audience. Note how, as early as Chapter One, George is telling Lennie all about what happened to them in Weed.

Steinbeck must have felt defensive about his plot. He knew people would question the idea of two men wanting to live together on their own little farm. He deals with this question three times in the early part of the novel.

In Chapter Two, the boss says:

“Say—what you sellin’? . . . . I said what stake you got in this guy? You takin’ his pay away from him?”

George explains that Lennie is his cousin and got kicked in the head by a horse as a kid.

In the next chapter Slim brings up the same question.

“Funny how you an’ him string along together….It jus’ seems kinda funny a cuckoo like him and a smart little guy like you travelin’ together.”

Here George explains:

“It ain’t so funny, him an’ me goin’ around together,” George said at last. “Him and me was both born in Auburn. I knowed his Aunt Clara. She took him when he was a baby and raised him up. When his Aunt Clara died, Lennie just come along with me out workin’. Got kinda used to each other after a little while.”

So Steinbeck created two central characters because he needed their interchange of dialogue for the play he intended to write immediately. They have a symbiotic relationship. George is a little guy, and having Lennie as a companion gives him protection in the vicious world of hobos; while Lennie needs George to find him jobs and tell him what to do. Steinbeck wrote his novella like a play, with most of the exposition handled in the form of dialogue, as can be readily observed in every chapter of the book.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Explain the differences between George and Lennie in Of Mice and Men.

Of course, there are the physical differences obvious from Steinbeck's initial description:

The first man was small and quick, dark of face, with restless eyes and sharp, strong features.  Every part of him was defined: small strong hands, slender arms, a thin and bony nose.  Behind him walked his opposite, a huge man, shapeless of face, with large pale eyes, with wide, sloping shoulders...

But the more important differences around found not in their physicality, but in their ability to interpret the world.  For example, when George and Lennie arrive at Curley's ranch, George is able to immediately assess the threat level and the need to convince the man to hire them both.  Lennie, on the other hand, with his child-like innocence, prompty forgets George's strict instructions to remain silent.   Unlike his friend, he approaches all situations with his trademark honesty.

While the friends do have marked differences, they share a desire to protect one another and to hope for a better life.  Here, Lennie urges George to "tell his favorite story":

"We got a future.  We got somebody to talk to that gives a damn about us..."

"Because...because... I got you to look after me, and you got me to look after you, and that's why"

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

How are George and Lennie, in Of Mice and Men, different in their relationships with other people?

George and Lennie, in Of Mice and Men, differ greatly in regards to the way that they interact with those around them.

The most poignant example would be the "relationship" between Curley's wife and both Lennie and George. George tells Lennie not to have anything to do with Curley's wife given she is a "tart". George tells Lennie, "Don't you even take a look at that bitch. I don't care what she says and what she does. You leave her be."

Even with this threat, Lennie does not "leave her be". Instead, he is enamoured with her because of the way that she feels- he loves soft things.

Another example where Lennie acts differently with others than George would is when Lennie enters into Crooks' bunk-room. Crooks tells Lennie that he has no right to be in there. George would have left- Lennie simply does not know any better. He seems to believe that all others are his friends.

Lennie is trusting of all people around him, even given the warnings from George. Unfortunatley, this leads to Lennie's downfall. George simply knows better than to be trusting of others and presents himself as a guarded man.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Last Updated on