Does the theme of "Am I my brother's keeper" apply to Of Mice and Men, particularly in terms of George and Lennie's relationship?

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The question of whether the general question of "Am I my brother's keeper" applies to Of Mice and Men? is complicated and not easily answered. For me, George has made a choice that he is responsible for Lennie in the moral sense of being his brother's keeper.

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You have posed a very deep question that almost every individual must face at some point in his or her life, whether it may be taking care of a senior family member or a close friend in need. Most people belief that it is a basic human responsibility and show...

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of caring and humanity to take care of a sick or aging relative, especially a parent. Few would think one has no obligation in that scenario. However, beyond an immediate family member, how far does one go to help/take care of another?

This is a tough decision that George must make, and throughout the whole novel, he is responsible for Lennie. He promises Lennie's aunt to take on this responsibility, and a big reason for this is his guilt for having teased Lennie unmercifully in their youth. As a result of his decision to care for Lennie, George has a very unstable and difficult life. Lennie and George are ranch hands, who often must migrate to find employment. However, they need to move much more than others because Lennie keeps getting in trouble and fired due to his mental deficiencies, and George must leave with him to fulfill his caretaker responsibilities. George puts an end to this sitatuation when Lennie accidently kills Curley's wife. He realizes that Lennie is dangerous and now his responsibility lies in ending Lennie's unintentional "reign of terror".

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George got as much from his relationship with Lennie as Lennie did. Yes, Lennie got into trouble, and George would always tell Lennie when he got angry at him that he'd be better off without him. George could have abandoned Lennie at any time, but he didn't because he did feel it was his responsibility to take care of Lennie after Lennie's aunt died. I think it was more than guilt that George took care of Lennie. Eventually, George had become Lennie's parent, and no parent leaves his child just because the child has been bad. Also, it was only because George repeated the story over and over for Lennie that George came to believe that maybe they could actually achieve the American Dream of having their own piece of land. I don't believe George saw Lennie as a burden or felt he was paying too high a price. At the end of the day, George and Lennie had each other.

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I agree with the posts above. The question of George's responsibility for Lennie and how killing Lennie fits into this responsibility is quite complicated and this complexity is probably one reason the book remains so popular and compelling today.

Many of the social issues in this book remain resonant even as they have been dealt with in our public and political forums, but the idea of one person's responsibility for another has not been decided and probably never will be.

There is an emphasis on choice here but the ethics of the choice don't match the morals of it. In other words, George has no legal obligation to babysit Lennie but he has accepted the moral obligation to do so.

To me, this means that, yes, George is responsible for Lennie and for Lennie's criminal act(s) and George is bound to atone in some way for what Lennie has done. George is his brother's keeper, because he has made the choice already. He has stated his position and agreed to take care of Lennie.

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I believe that question is why this story remains so powerful.  If anyone was in a position to ignore his brother, it was George.  Here is a man competing with hundreds of other men in order to fill menial labor jobs.  Considering it was tough for one man to get a job, it would have certainly been near impossible for two men to get jobs at the same farm.  Not only does George accept that challenge, he continues to stick by Lenny even after the get fired, threatened, and chased off of ranches.  In my opinion, George's willingness to stick with Lenny isn't obligation, just love.  I don't believe those two work hand in hand.  Obligation suggests doing something because you're bound to it or to show gratitude for something else.  By that meaning, it is Lenny who is obligated to stick with George, not vice versa.  So I would say that no, man isn't obligated to watch over fellow man simply because that's what we do.  Man watches over fellow man because of the love and respect we earn and give in various relationships.

**As I re-read what I typed, I realize that I may sound like I only believe we help each other if help is earned.  That's not entirely the case.  We don't let fellow man get hit by a car if we can help it just because fellow man is a stranger.  What I'm saying is that man's nature tends to lean toward helping "me" before "you".  That's why I say George acts out of love, not obligation.

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While I agree with you, clane, that the scope of the obligation has shrunk over the past 50 years, I do believe that the heart of the idea lives on.  Consider every family fight that will occur over the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday.  So often, we as humans become so concerned about the well-being of our loved ones, that we tend towards condescension and over-protections.  We judge their decisions because we feel we know what is right for them, that we are better informed.  I would argue that love, in any form, naturally carries with it a sense of obligation.

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This is a good question- a real thinker. I think that sense of obligation has begun to fade in the past 50 years or so. It's safe to assume that a person reading this book in 1937 when it was originally published would agree that George had an obligation to take care of Lenny and the price that George paid to bear the burden was great. That is not to say that his relationship with Lenny wasn't rewarding in some aspects because it was- they had a very unique and caring relationship that ran deep.

I think this question posed today really depends on a person's sense of moral obligation to help others. There are certainly degrees of moral obligation in American culture today so it's difficult to say with any certainty how far reaching an obligation would go. For example, I'm not sure that everyone in George's situation would have taken Lenny under his wing and agreed to look after him. The price you pay is big. I mean taking care of a Lenny in today's society would mean giving up a lot for a lot of people so the decision might be more difficult to make.

Great Post! I would love to hear what others think about this.

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Does man have an obligation to take care of his fellow man? Does the question "Am I my brother's keeper?" apply to the characters in Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck?

John Steinbeck created two unforgettable characters in Of Mice and Men.  Steinbeck delves into the subjects of friendship and sacrifice.  George Milton and Lennie Small are inseparable.  George is a clever man who takes care of the mentally deficient Lennie.  Without George, Lennie would not be able to survive out in the world. 

Lennie lived with his Aunt Clara.  George roomed with Aunt Clara as well. When Aunt Clara passed away, she asked George to take care of Lennie. He accepted the responsibility but resultingly has had nothing but trouble because of Lennie.

The reader immediately recognizes that Lennie’s intelligence and huge size make for a dangerous combination. Unfortunately, Lennie is not aware of his own strength, so he usually breaks or scares whatever he tries to touch.  A girl thought he was going to harm her and she cried rape; he squashes a puppy; he pinches a mouse’s head and keeps it in his pocket; and finally, he breaks a woman’s neck. George is always there to protect and defend Lennie. 

Most of the time, Lennie does exactly what George says.  However, with his low IQ, he acts like a young child; he is sneaky and lies about the things that he does wrong.  George has a dream of owning a farm.  He has shared this with Lennie and that is always on Lennie’s mind.

George is Lennie’s caretaker.  He is a good man who treats Lennie as though he were his brother.  It is obvious that George likes the company of Lennie, as well as the responsibility for him. Every time that Lennie does something bad, George covers for him.  When Lennie made the girl think that he was going to rape her, George and Lennie ran out of town and found work in another place. 

In the Bible, Cain is questioned about where his brother is.  He answers by saying: “Am I my brother’s keeper?” George has become Lennie’s keeper and must take ultimate responsibility for him. In this case, Lennie and George's relationship exemplifies a man fulfilling his obligation to take care of his fellow man.

Candy, Curley’s wife, has pretty blonde hair.  When she discovers that Lennie has killed a puppy, Candy tries to console him. Without George around, Lennie wants to touch her hair but goes too far. Candy begins to cry out.  To keep her from alerting anyone else, Lennie strangles her.  George cannot get him out of this situation. He tells Lennie to go to the river and wait on him.

Here is George’s dilemma.  If Curley finds him, he will be hurt or hurt someone else.  George decides rather than put Lennie through a trial or torture or an execution, he will take the ultimate responsibility and put Lennie out of his misery.  He borrows a gun from one of the other workers and goes to meet Lennie at the river.  George places Lennie on the bank and tells him to think about the rabbits and the farm. 

‘Go on,’ said Lennie. ‘How’s it gonna be.  We gonna get a little place. And I get to tend the rabbits.’

‘An’you get to tend the rabbits. Look down there across the river, like you can almost see the place.’

Lennie said, ‘I thought you was mad at me, George.’

And George raised the gun and he brought the muzzle of it close to the back of Lennie’ head.  The hand shook violently, but his face set and his hand steadied.  He pulled the trigger.  Lennie jarred, and then settled slowly forward to the sand.

Of course, George is devastated, but the other workers take him off to get a drink.  Even though it was against the laws of God, for Lennie, this was the only way that George could take care of his brother.

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