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The Great Depression of the 1930s saw many men leave their families when they could no longer provide for them.  They became "bindle stiffs," riding the railroad cars to California where they became itinerant workers on the large corporate-owned farms.  Alienated from family and home, these disposessed men often became paralyzed emotionally.  John Steinbeck wrote of Lennie Small, whom he created to express this paralysis,

"Lennie was not to represent insanity at all but the inarticulate and powerful yearning of all men."

Steinbeck turned to the ideology of socialism as a solution to man's alienation.  With the motif of the fraternity of men that socialism brings, Steinbeck has his characters seek a sense of belonging and hope with one another. For George and Lennie, who already have each other, it is also their dream of owning a ranch that propels them; likewise Old Candy begins to have hope for his future when he thinks of joining in on George and Lennie's plans.  Even the Crooks, the doubly alienated stable worker, sheds some of his despair after he learns of the dream ranch in which he may become a partner.

But, outside of the dream, George and Lennie are still just itinerant workers who must be cautious in their speech and actions so that they can keep their jobs.  Worse yet, the boss's belligerent son, Curley, acts as an opposing force to George and Lennie's friendship and happiness by harassing Lennie until Lennie is instructed by George to "let him have it," and he crumples Curley's hand.  Of course, when Curley's wife tempts Lennie and he accidentally breaks her neck, the friendship of the two men is endangered; then, after Lennie's death, George knows the dream, too, is dead and he is so terribly alone.

Likewise, Curley's wife, who is merely a genitive of Curley, acts also as an opposing force; this time she is a temptress, an Eve as it were, interfering with the fraternity of the men. She and her husband illustrate difference as they both are outside the fraternity of the men.

Old Candy, crippled by having lost a hand, spends his days sweeping and cleaning up the bunkhouse.  He worries that the boss and the others may feel that he is like his old dog and has outlived his usefulness. He tells George and Lennie that he will make a will and leave his share to the others if they let him buy in on their dream.  When he discovers Curley's wife and George leaves, Candy kneels by her'

"You...tramp....You done it di'n't you? I s'pose you're glad.  Ever'body knowed you'd mess things up.  You wasn't no good.  You ain't no good now, you lousy tart.....I could of hoed in the garden and washed dishes for them guys."

Crooks, isolated from the society of his home town, is doubly alienated as he is made to live in the stable alone because he is black.  Hostile at first at Lennie who steps into the barn, he later tells Lennie that he feels as though he is "goin' crazy" because he has no one to talk to or to compare things by. Crooks expresses his terrible aloneness,

"A guy goes nuts if he ain't got nobody.....I tell ya a guy get too lonely sn' he get sick."  ....Sometimes he get thinkin', an' he got nothing to tell him that's so an' what ain't so....He can't turn to some other guy and ast him if he sees it too.  He can't tell. He got nothing to measure by."

Alienated from their own communities and from those they work with, the bindle stiffs of the ranch in Of Mice and Men experience a terrible loneliness.

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Which character in Of Mice and Men best embodies the idea of loneliness in the lives of migrant workers?

There are several characters to choose from to answer this question. George, Candy and Crooks each possess different, unique qualities of loneliness in the context of the story. 

George is the only character of these three who has a friend, Lennie. Despite the presence of a companion, George remains isolated. Unlike the other migrant workers he encounters, George must look after Lennie and protect him. This burden compromises the single virtue presented by a migratory life for George - freedom. 

Candy has no friends after the loss of his dog and he is not respected on the ranch. Though Candy takes up with George and Lennie, he sees the possibility of buying land with them disappear when he finds Curley's wife's body in the barn. Candy's loneliness is heightened by the fact that he is old and can no longer work and has litte hope for a positive change in the future. 

Candy is the old, disabled ranch hand who is helpless to stop the shooting of his dog and who knows that he too will be banished when he is no longer useful.

Crooks is the most literally isolated character in the book, isolated by color and living conditions, but he is not a migrant like the others.

Crooks, the despairing old Negro stable worker, lives alone in the harness room, ostracized from the ranch hands. 

In the permanent qualities of Crooks ostracism and in the permanance of his skin color, Crooks is quite different from George, Candy, and Slim who move from place to place, open to the possibility of change. 

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