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It should be noted that nobody except the reader knows what really happened in the barn. Only two people were present when the incident occurred--Lennie and Curley's wife. Lennie's friend and guardian George Milton was not present, so he doesn't know what happened any more than any of the other men on the ranch. They discover Curley's wife's body and assume that Lennie killed her while trying to rape her. This is what George himself must suspect. This is what even Slim--who is supposed to be so wise and compassionate--suspects. And maybe they are all at least partially correct in their suspicions! Lennie was stroking the girl's soft and pretty hair with her permission. But then he got carried away and wouldn't let go of her. She became frightened and started screaming. Maybe she suspected the same thing that all the men did when they viewed her dead body. Why wouldn't she think Lennie was trying to rape her? Maybe if she hadn't started screaming, Lennie would have gone much further. He may not have known precisely what he was doing, but he was probably becoming sexually aroused and being driven by instinct. As a matter of fact, what happened between Lennie and the girl could be compared to what is lately being called "date rape," a crime which typically starts off with some innocuous consensual kissing and fondling but turns violent because the man gets carried away (and frequently ends up in prison).

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Ultimately, Lenny kills Curley's wife. However, to truly understand how this tragedy occurs, it's necessary to look at the events that led up to the woman's untimely demise and how forces shaped both her fate and Lenny's fate as well. 

As the novel begins, George and Lennie are walking along a rural California road.  They speak of their hope of achieving the American dream:  becoming property owners and homeowners.  But as the two friends talk, George notices something odd in Lennie's behavior.  George demands that Lennie surrender whatever it is that he has in his pocket:

"Come on, give it here."
Lennie held his closed hand away from George's direction. "It's on'y a mouse, George."
"A mouse? A live mouse?"
"Uh-uh. Jus' a dead mouse, George. I didn't kill it. Honest! I found it. I found it dead."

It is the first clue that readers have of Lennie's inability to control his strength. He is attracted to soft and helpless things but he accidentally hurts, and sometimes kills, them. 

After the dead mouse is discarded, the reason for George and Lennie's road trip, looking for a new jobs, comes to light. Lennie had become attracted to a woman who apparently had been hanging around their last jobsite.  George recalls, at first in a mocking tone:

"Jus' wanted to feel that girl's dress- jus' wanted to pet it like it was a mouse- Well, how the hell did she
know you jus' wanted to feel her dress? She jerks back and you hold on like it was a mouse. She yells and we got to hide in a irrigation ditch all day with guys lookin' for us, and we got to sneak out in the dark and get outa the country. All the time somethin' like that- all the time. I wisht I could put you in a cage with about a million mice an' let you have fun." His anger left him suddenly. He looked across the fire at Lennie's anguished face, and then he looked ashamedly at the flames.

None of the injuries Lennie inflicts are deliberate but nonetheless, he does cause harm. 

George is not blameless in the events that lead up to the death of Curley's wife. When Curley taunts Lennie, and George becomes outraged, even though his rage is justified, what happens is a component of the coming tragedy.  When George has had enough of Curley's taunting of his friend, George gives Lennie the go-ahead to defend himself.  

George yelled again, "I said get him." Curley's fist was swinging when Lennie reached for it. The next
minute Curley was flopping like a fish on a line, and his closed fist was lost in Lennie's big hand.

Grievously injured and nursing hate and revenge, Curley, a man with little empathy in the first place, will feel completely justified when he seeks "justice" for the death of his wife. 

Another way in which George contributes to the coming tragedy is when he leaves Lennie at the ranch while he and the other hands go into town to drink and visit prostitutes.  Almost everyone on the ranch has gone; seemingly, only Lennie and Curley's wife remain. Both incredibly lonely in their own ways, Curely's wife finds Lennie alone in the barn.  Lennie is as attracted to the softness of her hair as he was to the puppy's fur.  When he begins to stroke her to vigorously, Curley's wife becomes frightened. She yells and the noise she is making scares Lennie.  He doesn't want to get in trouble. He tries to silence the shrieking woman which only make her more frantic.  In his panic, Lennie accidentally breaks her neck. 

Coming back from their adventures in town, George learns from Candy (who had also stayed behind) of the accidental murder.  George sees the scope of events immediately:

"Lennie never done it in meanness," he said. "All the time he done bad things, but he never done one of 'em mean."

George knows that this is the perfect, and justifiable, reason that Curley needs to get his revenge. In a final act of love, George lets his friend know he is not mad, and then he shoots Lennie himself. He will not give Curley and his cronies the satisfaction:

Lennie said, "I thought you was mad at me, George."
"No," said George. "No, Lennie. I ain't mad. I never been mad, an' I ain't now. That's a thing I want ya to know."
The voices came close now. George raised the gun and listened to the voices.
Lennie begged, "Le's do it now. Le's get that place now."
"Sure, right now. I gotta. We gotta."
And George raised the gun and steadied it, and he brought the muzzle of it close to the back of Lennie's head. The hand shook violently, but his face set and his hand steadied. He pulled the trigger. The crash of the shot rolled up the hills and rolled down again. Lennie jarred, and then settled slowly forward to the sand, and he lay wwithout quivering.

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He kills the puppy, which in turn foreshadows the killing of Curley's wife.

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He accidentally kills Curly's Wife.

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Who was responsible for Lennie's death in the novella Of Mice and Men?

This is an interesting question as it is difficultand ultimately problematicto assign blame.

George, of course, is literally the one who shoots Lennie in the back of the head, ending his life, but he does this only because Curley was about to subject Lennie to a slower and more painful death. George could be blamed, too, for needing Lennie's companionship so badly that he took him with him from job to job knowing what he was. By the time they arrived at the ranch, George already had come to the realization that Lennie was a problem. He had become, without meaning to, too forward with a woman once before, and he also had a history of killing his pets by being too rough with them. George would not have told Lennie to run to the pond if he got into trouble if he didn't expect there might be trouble at the ranch.

Lennie, however, is the one who killed Curley's wife, though given his mental capacity, it is unlikely (though not impossible) a judge would have allowed him to stand trial: Lennie clearly did not understand what he was doing and had no intention to kill. While his act led to his death, he was not fully responsible for it, anymore than a person would be if they fired a gun that killed somebody without knowing there was somebody in the bullet's path.

While George is ultimately most responsible for his friend's death, as it was not wise to put Lennie in a situation where he could threaten lives, we can also bring in a social system that had no place for people like Lennie. George was trying to save him from what have been a rough and miserable life in a mental institution. This is a case of good intentions going awry.

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Who was responsible for Lennie's death in the novella Of Mice and Men?

Technically, of course, the person who pulls the trigger and kills Lennie, is George.

However, it is also arguable that Lennie is responsible for his own demise due to his total incapability to control the triggers in his environment. This incapability led him to commit the ultimate mistake (although not on purpose) of taking the life of Curley's wife. The fact that he gets to that point is quite dangerous, making it understandable (though not entirely justifiable) that George just decided to mercy-kill Lennie, rather than have him get caught by the lynch mob that was coming Lennie's way.

Lennie is, so to speak, a not-so-gentle giant with immense strength. The problem is that he operates purely out of impulse. As such, he destroys many things in his way, although not on purpose. Realistically, he is out of control. George can only do so much to curb Lennie's actions.

Here is the evidence why Lennie may be held responsible for his own demise, even though he does not do things "on purpose". From the very start of the novella, we see foreshadowing. George complains about all the things that Lennie has been responsible for. All of those things are negative and caused by Lennie's inability to comprehend how strong he is, how emotional he gets, and how physically controlling he can be.

“God, you’re a lot of trouble,” said George. “I could get along so easy and so nice if I didn’t have you on my tail. I could live so easy and maybe have a girl.”

From George's own mouth we learn that Lennie:

  • "Petted" a woman's dress the way he would one of his mice, causing for her to yell for help, and driving both George and Lennie to hide and escape the county.
  • Has killed animals by accident just because he is too rough with them and cannot discern was is a "good touch."
  • Got George in trouble several times throughout their lives precisely because of his incapacity to respect boundaries and keep his hands to himself.

Essentially, we could bring it down to social Darwinism: survival of the fittest.

In Of Mice and Men, we see that those who "make it" in the ranch are the farm hands who have what it takes to survive that harsh, dry, isolating, and cruel environment. This is evident in Slim "the prince of the ranch"; Crooks, whose sour demeanor and lonely lifestyle are factors that help him survive there; and George himself, who holds himself together even with Lennie by his side.

In all, Lennie is just too impulsive, too unprepared, and too overwhelming to survive in such an environment. Sooner or later, he would (as per his history) have done something that would entirely mess things up. Killing Curley's wife was the ultimate mistake, which would have brought with it the ultimate punishment. George knew what was coming, so he just pulled the trigger and killed Lennie in one shot rather than have him go through the harshness of a lynch mob.

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Who was responsible for Lennie's death in the novella Of Mice and Men?

Several characters could be considered responsible for Lennie's death, but in my opinion, Curley's wife is responsible. When Lennie is talking with Curley's wife, he tells her that he likes to pet nice things. Curley's wife listens as Lennie tells her how he wishes that he could pet a piece of velvet. She then willingly allows Lennie to stroke her hair. However, Lennie does not know his own strength and begins to tighten his grip when she tells him to stop. Curley's wife then begins to scream and Lennie panics. Unable to stop Curley's wife from screaming, Lennie jerks his arm and accidentally breaks her neck. Lennie then realizes he is in trouble and flees to the meeting spot by the river. Had Curley's wife been more discerning, she would have never let Lennie touch her hair, and George would have never had to spare Lennie from Curley's angry mob by shooting him. 

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