Why did George stop playing tricks on Lennie in Of Mice and Men?

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George stopped playing tricks on Lennie in "Of Mice and Men" because he felt guilty and responsible after a prank led to Lennie nearly drowning. George had told Lennie, who was mentally challenged and blindly followed George's instructions, to jump into a river, not realizing Lennie couldn't swim. This incident, coupled with Lennie's trusting nature and their growing friendship, led George to stop the pranks.

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George stopped playing tricks on the childlike Lennie after Lennie entrusted his life to George and nearly died. 

When George Milton and Lennie Small arrive at the ranch where they have been hired to work, they meet old Candy, the boss, and his son Curley. Later, they meet the skinner named Slim, who possesses great understanding because his ear "hear[s] more than [is] said to him." As they converse, Slim remarks that it is odd that George and Lennie travel together. However, George tells Slim, "It ain't so funny, him an' me goin' aroun'" with each other because he and Lennie are from the same town. George explains that Lennie's Aunt Clara took care of Lennie until she died. After his aunt's death, Lennie started to go along with George as he went "out workin'." George adds that they "got kinda used to each other after a little while."

Then, George tells Slim that he used to tease Lennie and play jokes on him because doing so made him seem very smart in comparison. He adds:

"Used to play jokes on 'im 'cause he was too dumb to take care of 'imself. But he was too dumb even to know he had a joke played on him. Why he'd do any damn thing I tol' him....If I tol' him to walk over a cliff, over he'd go."

George took advantage of this faith one day. Since he had an audience of several men, he boasted of his power over Lennie. To demonstrate this power, he told Lennie to jump into the river below where they were standing. Lennie jumped, but only then did George realize that Lennie could not swim. Lennie nearly drowned before the men could reach him. When George finally managed to get Lennie pulled out,

"...he was so...nice to me for pullin' him out. Clean forgot I told him to jump in. Well, I ain't done nothing like that no more."

George feels responsible for nearly killing Lennie, and he no longer teases the childlike man. Also, he has become "used to goin' around with a guy," so Lennie and he are now friends.

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At the beginning of chapter three of Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men, Slim and George are in the bunkhouse talking. Slim comments that he rarely ever sees two men traveling together and is surprised about the friendship between George and Lennie. George tells Slim about how he and Lennie ended up together and confesses to Slim that Lennie often does "bad things" which cause them to lose jobs. 

George also confesses that he used to "play jokes" on Lennie. Lennie is mentally challenged and looks to George for just about everything. One day George told Lennie to jump in a river and Lennie almost drowned before he could be saved. George describes the scene to Slim:

“Tell you what made me stop that. One day a bunch of guys was standin’ around up on the Sacramento River. I was feelin’ pretty smart. I turns to Lennie and says, ‘Jump in.’ An’ he jumps. Couldn’t swim a stroke. He damn near drowned before we could get him. An’ he was so damn nice to me for pullin’ him out. Clean forgot I told him to jump in. Well, I ain’t done nothing like that no more.” 

Fear of causing Lennie's death made George stop playing tricks on his friend.

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In the beginning of the novella, George and Slim talk about Lennie. In one of the rare moments in the book, George and Slim connect and have a real conversation. George shares with Slim his past with Lennie.

When Lennie's aunt Clara died, Lennie stuck with George. In time they became good friends. George also explains that Lennie is a great worker, but not too bright. As an example of this, George recounts a story of when he told Lennie to jump in a river. He actually did. The problem was that Lennie did not know how to swim. Therefore, he almost drowned. When George realized that Lennie would do anything he asked him to do, he stopped playing pranks on Lennie. George did not want to take advantage of Lennie. Here is the quote:

George’s voice was taking on the tone of confession. “Tell you what made me stop that. One day a bunch of guys was standin’ around up on the Sacramento River. I was feelin’ pretty smart. I turns to Lennie and says, ‘Jump in.’ An’ he jumps. Couldn’t swim a stroke. He damn near drowned before we could get him. An’ he was so damn nice to me for pullin’ him out. Clean forgot I told him to jump in. Well, I ain’t done nothing like that no more."

“He’s a nice fella,” said Slim. “Guy don’t need no sense to be a nice fella. Seems to me sometimes it jus’ works the other way around. Take a real smart guy and he ain’t hardly ever a nice fella.”

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What did George do once that made him stop playing jokes on Lennie in Of Mice and Men?

One day George told Lennie to jump into the Sacramento River, assuming Lennie knew how to swim. Lennie did jump, but he did not know how to swim, so he nearly drowned before the frightened George and other men could rescue him. After this experience of nearly causing Lennie's death, George has played no more practical jokes on him.

In Chapter 3, George is in the bunkhouse and talks with Slim, who remarks on Lennie's strength and his ability to do so much work. "There ain't nobody that can keep up with him," Slim declares. Then, Slim observes that George and Lennie make an odd pair, inviting George to talk about himself and Lennie. George tells Slim that they are from the same town and Lennie was cared for by his aunt. After Lennie's Aunt Clara died, he started to work with George. "Got kinda used to each other after a while," George remarks.

George then confesses that he became accustomed to playing jokes on Lennie because he was "too dumb to take care of himself" and it made George seem smarter. George even admits that he could be abusive to Lennie, and the big man would not even become angry. "That wasn't so damn much fun after a while" (Chapter 3). Finally, George explains that he stopped playing practical jokes on Lennie after the time he ordered him to jump into the Sacramento River and Lennie jumped without even knowing how to swim. Because Lennie nearly drowned before being rescued, and he had forgotten that George was the one who told him to jump, George felt so guilty about this trick that he stopped his pranks against Lennie, saying, "Well, I ain't done nothing like that no more" (Chapter 3).

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What did George do once that made him stop playing jokes on Lennie in Of Mice and Men?

Early in their relationship, George used to enjoy playing jokes on Lennie because it made him feel smart and superior. He enjoyed the control. He could play jokes on Lennie and Lennie would not even realize that he had been fooled. However, this came to a stop after a near-tragic incident. One day on the Sacramento River, while standing around with a group of other men, George decided to show off a little. He told Lennie to jump into the river. Trusting George, Lennie jumped in, even though he could not swim. Lennie almost drowned before George and the others could pull him out. When Lennie came out of the river, after almost dying, he thanked George for pulling him out. Lennie had forgotten that George was the reason he went into the water to begin with.

George didn't play jokes on Lennie after that. He realized how much power he had over Lennie, literally the power of life and death. George was probably ashamed of himself, also, for being mean to Lennie when Lennie trusted him so much and was so grateful to him.

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In Of Mice and Men, what has caused George to stop playing mean-spirited jokes on Lennie?

In Chapter 3, with Slim's "God-like eyes" and calm invitation to talk, George explains why he and Lennie go around together when most "bindle-stiffs" are loners. Comfortable with conversing with Slim, George goes on to tell him that he used to play jokes on Lennie because "he was too dumb even to know he had a joke played on him."  But, because he never became angry, George says that the pranks were not as much fun, anyway. Then, after one practical joke went too far, George stopped his pranks: One day when George, Lennie, and other men were loitering around the Sacramento River, George ordered Lennie to jump into the water:

"I turns to Lennie and says, 'Jump in.' An' he jumps. Couldn't swim a stroke. He damn near drowned before we could get him. An' he was so damn nice to me for pullin' him out. Clean forgot I told him to jump in. Well, I ain't done nothing like that no more."

Slim remarks on the ingenuousness of Lennie, "He's a nice fella," and adds that "real smart guys" are rarely ever nice. 

This scene captures the Naturalism of the novella in which men, alone and alienated, become aggressive, and the guileless fall victim to this aggression and cruelty. And, Lennie represents for Steinbeck the frustration of all men during the Depression as well as the "moral isolation and helplessness that is part of the human condition." [enotes] 

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What happened to Lennie that made George stop being mean to him?

In a conversation with Slim, George's tone of voice became confessional.  He stated that he used to poke fun at Lennie and make him do things for his own amusement. In once instance, George told Lennie to jump into the Sacramento River.  Lennie being slow mentally actually jumped in.  The problem was that Lennie could not swim.  Lennie almost drown that day.  George had to save him, and when he did, Lennie showed and expressed great gratitude.  Lennie was so pure of heart that he did not blame George for suggesting to him to jump into the river. 

When George saw this, he stopped playing jokes on Lennie. In fact, they became very good friends, and they have travelled together since then.  Here is the quote in George's own words:

“Tell you what made me stop that. One day a bunch of guys was standin’ around up on the Sacramento River. I was feelin’ pretty smart. I turns to Lennie and says, ‘Jump in.’ An’ he jumps. Couldn’t swim a stroke. He damn near drowned before we could get him. An’ he was so damn nice to me for pullin’ him out. Clean forgot I told him to jump in. Well, I ain’t done nothing like that no more.”

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