In Of Mice and Men, was George justified in shooting Lennie?

Quick answer:

While the question of whether or not George was justified in shooting Lennie in Of Mice and Men is a matter of opinion, one could argue that George was justified, because the shooting was an act of mercy and because Lennie died far more peacefully at the hands of George than he would have with Curly and the other men.

Expert Answers

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

Although the answer to this question can be defended either way, I feel that George is justified in killing Lennie. Aside form the fact that Lennie has been and will continue to be a hindrance to George in both his personal and professional life, this is not George's main motivation for carrying out such a serious deed. Ultimately, George kills Lennie in a sense of mercy. Lennie, although he may have continued on living a happy, oblivious life, would most likely have found a much worse demise. Due to his lack of cognitive skills and his unbridled brute strength, Lennie continuously found himself in situations where not only did he do something that gets him in trouble or that he didn't mean to do, but angers other people in the process. In fact, when George ultimately does choose to kill Lennie, Lennie was essentially on the run. Curly and the rest of the people from the farm were on a man hunt to kill Lennie  and possibly George because of the trouble that he had caused for all of them (mainly the accidental manslaughter of Curly's wife). They certainly would not have been as nice, comforting, or humane as George was in killing him. George did not see an end to Lennie's antics, and so "putting him out of his misery" was a way to protect himself from Lennie, but also Lennie from himself.

Approved by eNotes Editorial

Videos

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

Nobody but the reader knows that happened between Lennie and Curley's wife in the barn. George was not there. He only saw the girl's dead body. To everyone it looked like a case of murder in connection with an attempted rape. What actually happened, as we know, was different. Lennie got panicked when Curley's wife started screaming for help. The men were playing horseshoes right outside the barn. He was desperate to make her stop struggling and screaming. It is noteworthy that something similar happened in Weed, but that time George arrived on the scene in time to intervene. The fact is that Lennie's crime was probably more like accidental manslaughter, since there was no intent to commit murder, or to commit rape, for that matter. But he would have no way of defending himself in a court trial because he didn't have the capability of explaining the circumstances, and there was nobody else to tell what actually happened. It looked much worse than it was. If it ever came to a trial--which was highly unlikely--the prosecutor would have to insist that Lennie was trying to rape the girl. It would be hard to establish that he was trying to murder her.

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

Lennie was going to die; there was no way around it. He didn't want his friend killed by strangers or to be scared at the moment of his death. Killing Lennie himself was the most humane thing that George could do; he would rather bear the guilt of having killed his friend than the guilt of turning his friend over to those who were out for his blood.

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

The answer to your question depends on what one's definition of love is.  If you see love as a willingness on someone's part to sacrifice his own good or comfort for another's, then George certainly demonstrates love for Lennie by shooting him.  While that might seem harsh, and while I don't think that I could do what George did, he saves Lennie from a worse fate and keeps Lennie from either being tortured by Curley, being institutionalized (which was a torturous experience in 1930s America), or with being on the run for the rest of his life.

George knows that when he shoots Lennie that he is not only losing him forever, but that he will also have to live with his action.  This knowledge on his part demonstrates that George's act is completely selfless and in Lennie's best interest.

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

George loved Lennie. Whether George did the right thing is a matter of opinion. When Slim shoots the old dog earlier in the book the incident serves as a foreshadow. The dog is old, blind, disabled, and stinky and thought to be of no use to himself or anyone. Unfortunately, Lennie's innocence and strength is useful, however, those qualities become his detriment. He places himself and others in dangerous situations. George and Lennie were run out of weed because Lennie touches a girl's dress and she claims that she was raped. Then Lennie destroysCurley's hand on the command of George. Finally, Lennie kills Curley's wife accidentally due to his superhuman strength. If George would not have killed him,Curley and the others would have lynched him or shot him unmercifully. George was in the position where he had no choice. He rather put Lennie to eternal sleep himself than allow the angry men to kill Lennie.

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

Years ago there was a movie entitled, "They Shoot Horses, Don't They?" which was also set in the Great Depression.  In this film, desperate couples entered dance marathons in the hope of winning the monetary prize, a prize that could restore them to a life without hunger and all the other ills of poverty.  Since only one couple would win after agonizing hours of dancing on a hardwood floor, the losers left more desolate and defeated than before.  In fact, many no longer wanted to continue the desperate struggle for survival.  One character asks, "Why don't they just shoot us like they do horses?"

The final controversial episode of George's shooting of Lennie is parallel to this movie's theme.  For George, his act was one of mercy, preventing Lennie from suffering the terrible loneliness, alienation, and fear that he would in prison.  George not only kills Lennie when he shoots, he kills the dream, so that the future for him is murdered, as it is for the losing dancers of "They Shoot Horses, Don't They?"  Indeed, the denouement of Steinbeck's novella is as desperate as the times in which it is set.

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

Lennie's dream of living with George and the rabbits dissolves for good when he accidentally strangles Curley's Wife in John Steinbeck's monumental play, "Of Mice and Men." George knows that the two of them will not be able to run away from this problem as they had in the past. Lennie is facing either a lynch mob or the death penalty (or, at least a long prison sentence), so George takes matters into his own hands and puts his friend out of his misery--a humane act usually reserved for pets such as rabbits.

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

George's justification for shooting Lennie is to keep him from experiencing the pain that will follow the consequences of his actions. Lennie will be lynched, probably beaten and then killed when he is caught. George also knows that even if they were to escape, it would be just a matter of time before Lennie had another "accident" and killed someone else. He knows he can't protect him from society, as he also can't protect society from Lennie. From George's perspective, killing Lennie before he is caught is the only kind thing to do. It is a quick end--he even protects Lennie from seeing it coming. From George's perspective, it is an act of love. As to whether it is justifiable or not, that is difficult to say. From one perspective, killing is never acceptable. However, real life is seldom black and white, and sometimes love requires a shift from absolute morality to relative.

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

I think the problem with this issue is that it's easy to forget that George is human also.  We spend our time recognizing Lenny as someone who needs help and George as the provider for that help.  The more we see Lenny leaning on George for help, the more as accept the fact that George needs to help him, that he is almost required to fulfil this role.  What we need to do, though, is put ourselves in George's shoes more closely.  How many times can you continue to follow the exact same actions before you tire of it.  They just ran to this ranch to escape Lenny's actions in Weed.  While I agree George may have been lazy about his reaction to this new problem, he probably recognized the bigger picture.  They could run away from this problem and get work on another ranch, but it would only be a matter of time before they'd be running again.  This horrible cycle has to be heavily weighing on George who wants nothing more than to be a regular working "Joe" who dreams of owning his own ranch.  We've all made rash, poor decisions when overcome with the stress of responsibilty, this was George's.  I suppose we can argue whether his actions were right or wrong forever and ever, but I think that more important that it being right or wrong, it's understandable. 

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

All of my kids loved Lennie, but I think most of them felt that it was a mercy killing and that a worse fate would have awaited Lennie if George hadn't shot him.  They feel sympathetic with George and Lennie.  Both characters are in a bad situation and obviously Lennie can't make a decision for himself.  Yes, if George had were arrested he would be convicted for murder, but most students see the reason and understand the reason he felt he had to do it.  And yes they could run, but they already had to run when they were in Weed.  I think George assumed (and probably rightly so) that it would just happen again.

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

Interesting, leagye. Most of my freshmen (who are all boys) believe that George had no other choice but to save Lennie from a worse kind of death at the hands of Curley and his men. The action is murder, but my boys argue that it's a kind of mercy killing. George gets irritated with Lennie, yes, but George still cares very much about what happens to his mentally handicapped friend. We talk about what suffering Lennie might have endured otherwise. 

It's important as well to keep Steinbeck's style as a naturalistic writer in mind. It's tough to read much of his work at a time because it is so uniformly grim. People like George and Lennie or the family in The Grapes of Wrath are always going to lose because of forces beyond their control. In this novel Lennie's doom is suggested from the moment we learn that he cannot control himself in his desire to touch soft things, whether it's a girl's dress or a mouse. People don't understand his behavior. Society in Steinbeck's works doesn't tolerate differences like Lennie's. Candy, Crooks, and Curley's wife are also victims in this regard. 

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

Most of my freshmen consistently feel that the shooting was unjustified, regardless of what horrible fate may have awaited Lennie at the hands of the men who were after them. As clane said, there were other options (that freshmen are so good at coming up with) other than murder. At that point, I usually explain that it is important to keep in mind what Steinbeck may have been trying to impart to the reader. It speaks to Steinbeck's compassion for people who had no home, no family and who led a nomadic existence during that time in California's history. The stresses of that type of life were intense, and friendships and relationships were complex (or just didn't exist for many).

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

I don't think any murder is justified, but I do think George cares for Lennie and the shooting is not done out of anger or even that he is sick of Lennie and the burden he represents.

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

I feel that way, too, Clane.  Reading the book makes the reader feel extremely sorry for Lennie...he makes decisions on impulse.  More like an animal than a human being.  He is incapable of understanding his own strength and understanding the subtleties of life.  I don't think George was right.  Murder is murder, and it is not for George to decide when Lennie should go to the great beyond.  George simply got tired of caring for an adult who acts like a child...a terrible burden on George and the way he wants to live his life.  No matter how much your child annoys you or messes up, you can't just kill him.

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

It's tough because one the one hand you have to commend the man for making such a huge sacrifice to spare his friend the torture he might have incurred at the hands of the angry mob after him. One the other hand, it is murder, any way you slice it he killed Lennie. I think that he had Lennie's forgiveness and I think Lennie sensed what had to be done, but I hate to condone something so terrible. I wish he has found another choice to make, there were other choices he could have made and I kind of feel like he was lazy about it. He could have found a place to hide Lennie and then tried to explain, they could have kept running, he could have begged for mercy from the men, it was as if he was tired of having to look out for Lennie and just gave up, gave in, and shot him.

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

Is George justified in killing Lennie?

George kills Lennie right before Lennie is about to be caught by a mob of incredibly angry, and incredibly violent, men. Lennie, who is mentally handicapped, has accidentally killed Curley's wife. It is heavily implied that, if the men were to apprehend Lennie, they would kill him brutally. George decides to kill Lennie quickly and painlessly, thus sparing him a torturous death at the hands of the mob. Seen this way, he engages in something of a mercy killing, or euthanasia.

Is George justified in killing Lennie? To even begin to answer such a question, we must place it back within the context of the novel. In other words, we must consider George's act in tandem with the realities of his world, and the choices it offers him. We have to put ourselves in George's shoes, and try to inhabit his particular situation.

Why does George shoot Lennie? He believes that his way of killing Lennie would be far kinder than that of Curley and the mob. Seeing as Curley is openly violent—remember that, earlier in the novel, he beat and bullied Lennie—George's intuition is probably correct. We might agree, then, that it is more merciful, and perhaps more loyal, of George to kill his friend, rather than abandon him to the whims of sadistic people.

Another question to consider is that of Lennie's autonomy. Isn't it presumptuous for George to assume what is and is not a good death for Lennie? Shouldn't he at least ask? Here, however, we must take Lennie's disability into account. Throughout the novel, George takes care of Lennie, as Lennie has the mental capacity of a young child. He unintentionally injures small animals—and, eventually, Curley's wife—because he can't grasp the concept of mortality, much less his own strength. In fact, Lennie doesn't seem to understand what has happened to Curley's wife, and the potential ramifications of her death (that is, a horrific death for Lennie). Thus, while Lennie is absolutely a human being deserving of rights, it could be argued that, due to his impairment, he would be unable to make an informed decision about his life and/or death. We can imagine that, if George had paused to discuss the situation with Lennie, the mob would have caught up with them, overpowered George, and made off with Lennie.

A third factor to consider would be time, or George's lack of it. As noted above, an armed, enraged mob is dashing toward the baffled Lennie. George does not have much time to argue with or question himself, much less Lennie. If he falters, he will run out of time, and he will be unable to help or protect his friend. He is forced to make a rash decision.

Last, it is important to note that George and Lennie are poor laborers in a cruel, unequal world. They have no social or economic resources with which to defend themselves. Clearly George cannot afford a lawyer; besides, Lennie would be long dead by the time George could make it to a nearby town. The same could be said for the option of calling the police—that is, assuming they would believe George's word over Curley's. Ultimately, their world is one of cruelty, inequality, and hopelessness, as encapsulated by Crooks' earlier statement ("Nobody never gets to heaven, and nobody gets no land"). Perhaps, under such circumstances, it is kind for George to provide Lennie with a humane death, as society will show him no mercy.

Again, while there is no simple answer to this question, considering it in light of the novel's wider context provides an opportunity for more productive discussions. The issue of Lennie's death, like everything else in Of Mice and Men, is fraught with ambiguity and unfairness.

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

Consider the ending of the novel Of Mice and Men, do you think George did the right thing by killing Lennie?

There was no "right thing to do" at the end. Lennie put himself in a very difficult situation. He was being chased with a gun by the murdered woman's husband.

My personal reading is that, as sad as it is and as innocent and both George and Lennie seem to be, George is partly responsible for the death of Curley's wife. Killing Lennie is a small mercy (because it saves Lennie from the terrible face-off with Curley) and it is an earned punishment for both Lennie and George.

George knew that Lennie was capable of committing murder - he'd done it already in Weed - yet George protected Lennie and helped him to escape punishment. This time around, George has to exact the punishment for his part in making this second murder possible.

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

Consider the ending of the novel Of Mice and Men, do you think George did the right thing by killing Lennie?

I think that by his death, Lennie got closer to the dream than anyone else in the novel, as he is visualising the farm as he is shot-

Lennie begged, "Le's do it now. Le's get that place now."(ch6)

In this respect, he is freed from the constraints which have fettered him (and George) for so long: the poverty, the endless moving, the challenges of mental weakness. Although I can see that killing another person is not really a decision another human being should make, I feel that George's act was a courageous and humane gesture.

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

Consider the ending of the novel Of Mice and Men, do you think George did the right thing by killing Lennie?

One could argue that killing another is never the right thing to do.  When you take someone else's life, you are committing an irrevocable act.  Since you do not have the right to give life, you should take it under no circumstances.  George was giving Lennie a mercy killing, but would Lennie have suffered in prison?  Maybe not.  If Lennie was going to be executed, would it have been painful?  Likely not.  So George was really only saving himself.

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

Consider the ending of the novel Of Mice and Men, do you think George did the right thing by killing Lennie?

Steinbeck creates in his final scene a moral dilemma for the reader--an almost Dr. Kevorkian situation.  Within the fictional world the decision is easier for the reader, of course....

Having been described in anthropomorphic terms (paws for hands, shuffling bear-like), readers may comfortable feel that George's killing is a mercy killing, just as one's shooting a damaged or ailing animal is an act of mercy.  But, at the same time, readers wonder what will become of George.  Perhaps he will have to go on the lam as Tom Joad of Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath does, even though his act was necessary, too.

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

Consider the ending of the novel Of Mice and Men, do you think George did the right thing by killing Lennie?

I personally love this ending. Although taking the life of another human being is legally and ethically wrong, not to mention it is playing God, I still think George did the right thing for three reasons:

1. If George didn't kill him, Curley would. Curley was fired up and had the intention to make him die a slow, torturous, and painful death. Curley had vengence running through his veins and would have expressed it somehow.

2. George created the most painless death possible. Remember the references to where the dog needed to be shot so it wouldn't feel a thing? George heeded that advice and took it to heart on behalf of Lennie. Likewise, George painted a picture of what they dreamed together before he killed Lennie making sure that his last thoughts were the most pleasant thoughts as possible.

3. If the law actually had the opportunity to deal with Lennie instead of Curley, he would have ended up either in jail where people would not understand his ways, or in a mental institution where medicine regarding mental health was not anywhere near where it is today.

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

Is Lennie's killing by George justified in Of Mice and Men?

In my opinion, Steinbeck wants us to believe that George is justified in killing Lennie and that he really has no other choice. In the 1930s, when the novel is set, there were no special education programs or federal disability laws. People were unlikely to have any understanding of the mentally challenged. In those days people like Lennie had very few alternatives and might have found themselves in a mental hospital if no one was available to care for them. Law enforcement would have been apathetic toward Lennie's disability. They would have locked him up and treated him very poorly if he had been apprehended after the accidental killing of Curley's wife.

Steinbeck foreshadows Lennie's death in chapter three when Carlson kills Candy's dog because the dog has become old and crippled. The dog was Candy's best friend, and he couldn't bring himself to put the dog out of its misery himself. He confesses to George that his lack of action was a mistake. He says,

“I ought to of shot that dog myself, George. I shouldn’t ought to of let no stranger shoot my dog.”

This must be on George's mind in chapter five when Candy shows him the dead body of Curley's wife. After asking Candy to wait before telling the other men about the girl, he sneaks into the bunkhouse and takes Carlson's Luger.

George may ultimately make up his mind after Slim implies that George must do something about Lennie. Slim says,

"An’ s’pose they lock him up an’ strap him down and put him in a cage. That ain’t no good, George.” 

George realizes that Lennie wouldn't understand being locked up and he doesn't want his friend left at the mercy of Curley, who is angry not only about his wife, but more so because Lennie has crushed his hand. George does the only thing possible to save his friend. Slim affirms George's decision in the end of chapter six when he says,

“You hadda, George. I swear you hadda. Come on with me.”

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

In Of Mice and Men, is George's final act toward Lennie justified?

Absolutely.  Assuming that you are talking about George killing Lennie, what he did was absolutely justified and might even have been the only moral thing he could have done.

George knows that what Lennie did is not really Lennie's fault.  Lennie is just not bright enough to truly be guilty of murder.  But Curley is never going to see it that way.  He has sworn that he's going to hurt Lennie before Lennie dies and there is no reason to doubt that he will since his father is a powerful man in the area.

So George has two options -- kill Lennie himself or let Curley get his hands on Lennie.  Given that choice, killing Lennie in a merciful way is much more humane and is therefore justified.

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