Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1646
Essential Passage 1: Chapter 1
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George went on. “With us it ain’t like that. We got a future. We got somebody to talk to that gives a damn about us. We don’t have to sit in no bar room blown’ in our jack jus’ because we got no place else to go. If them other guys gets in jail they can rot for all anybody give a damn. But not us.”
Lennie broke in. “But not us! An’ why? Because…because I got you to look after me, and you got me to look after you, and that’s why.” He laughed delightedly. “Go on now, George!”
“You got it by heart. You can do it yourself.”
“No, you. I forget some a’ the things. Tell about how it’s gonna be.”
“O.K. Someday—we’re gonna get the jack together and we’re gonna have a little house and a couple of acres an’ a cow and some pigs and—.”
“An’ live off the fatta the lan’,” Lennie shouted. “An’ have rabbits. Go on, George! Tell about what we’re gonna have in the garden and about the rabbits in the cages and about the rain in the winter and the stove, and how thick the cream is on the milk like you can hardly cut it. Tell about that, George.”
As they camp beside the river, George and Lennie plan their next move as they take on a new job, hoping to make some money. Their dream is to buy a small place that George knows off, owned by an elderly couple the wife of whom needs an operation. For a small price George and Lennie can become home owners, the goal of every true-blooded American, so the idea goes. Their plan is to have a small, self-sufficient farm, where they can be free and independent. More than anything, Lennie is looking forward to the rabbits, which George has promised him that he could take care of. It is scene that has been rehearsed so many times that Lennie can repeat George’s words by heart. But a dream always bears repeating. However, more than the dream, they have each other, Lennie and George forever. While other drifters and migrant workers may be solitary, these two have each other for support, protection, and guidance.
Essential Passage 2: Chapter 4
Crooks said gently, “Maybe you can see now. You got George. You know he’s goin’ to come back. S’pose you didn’t have nobody. S’pose you couldn’t go into the bunk house and play rummy ‘cause you was black. How’d you like that? S’pose you had to sit out here an’ read books. Sure you could play horseshoes till it got dark, but then you got to read books. Books ain’t no good. A guy needs somebody—to be near him.” He whined, “A guy goes nuts if he ain’t got nobody. Don’t make no difference who the guy is, long’s he’s with you. I tell ya,” he cried, “I tell ya a guy gets too lonely an’ he gets sick.”
It is a Saturday night, and most of the ranch hands are in town. Crooks, the sole black hand, is in his room, a mere shed attached to the barn. He is segregated from the white crew and resents it. He thus guards his imposed privacy, unappreciative when Lennie comes to pay a visit on his way back from seeing his puppy. Reluctantly, Crooks lets him in, more out of sheer loneliness that friendship. The discrimination has given him a cruel streak, and he teases Lennie with the idea that George may never come back. At first, Lennie is unfazed, knowing of George’s loyalty. But then, Crooks manages to get him to explore the possibility that at some time, something could happen to George, and Lennie would be alone. When Lennie becomes truly upset, Crooks apologizes, assuring him that George will indeed return. Crooks tries to make Lennie see the point: Lennie has George. Crooks, on the other hand, has no one, simply because he is black. He is excluded from all the activities of the white men, other than work. At night, all he has is his books. But books do not provide true companionship. Crooks is willing to talk to anybody, as long as they are “there.”
Essential Passage 3: Chapter 6
“You …an’ me. Ever’body gonna be nice to you. Ain’t gonna be no more trouble. Nobody gonna hurt nobody nor steal from ‘em.”
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 nuzzle 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 without quivering.
Lennie, running away from the ranch after the accidental death of Curly’s wife, has sought refuge in the place that George had told him to come to in anticipation of trouble. George finds him there after desperately trying to locate him before the other ranch hands, who have a lynching on their minds. George, bowing to the inevitable, has taken Carlson’s gun in preparation for what he knows must be done. Lennie admits he has done “another bad thing.” George assures him it does not matter. Lennie is afraid that George will leave him, as George has many times threatened to do. Since George never has left him, Lennie finds comfort in hearing once again George’s litany of complaint. Reassured that he will not be left alone, Lennie speaks again of their dream of a place of their own. Together, he and George repeat the run of the plans that they have chanted many times before. Knowing he is comforted and now happy, George takes out the gun and painlessly puts Lennie to death.
Analysis of Essential Passages
In a world that has descended to almost a survival level, true friendship is seen as odd at best. Among the migrant workers especially, the friendship that Lennie and George share is seen as suspicious, as if George is merely using Lennie or taking advantage of him. The meanness and mistrust that the two men find on the ranch is opposite to what they share with each other. The friendship of George and Lennie thus serves as a backdrop against which the tragedy of the story is played.
George has become, how willingly is uncertain, Lennie’s caretaker. After the death of his Aunt Clara, Lennie is unable to care for himself, so George takes him under his wing. At times finds the task a burden, and expresses openly his desire for freedom from responsibility. But Lennie knows that George, in his intense loyalty, would never desert him. Mutual protection and support is a strong foundation for their friendship. Not only that, they also share a dream. Their dream is the American Dream, the dream of a home that they can say they own. At a time when the Dream was fading, the friendship of George and Lennie personifies the continuation of that dream. Whether or not that friendship can continue when reality hits is a matter of perspective.
Crooks personifies the alienation of the minorities, especially in a time of hardship. He is without friends, not from his own choice but from the choice of others. At first he holds his alienation around him like a shield to protect him from emotional hurt. Yet he lets Lennie in, as well as Candy. The three of them are the outcasts, shut out from society because of their “differentness.” Yet in their differentness, the need for companionship is still great, as Crooks relates. With the biblical concept of “It is not good that man should be alone,” Crooks personifies the need, the physical need, for companionship. Without that, his very life is in question.
The death of Lennie at the hands of George is the ultimate act of friendship. It is clear that Lennie must die. In the self-imposed justice system of the ranch, the men become judge, jury, and executioner. No thought of outside justice is mentioned. In the enclosed world of the ranch, Lennie has committed the ultimate act of “not fitting in.” Knowing the outcome, George chooses to take that outcome into his own hands. Rather than Lennie’s death be the result of hate and revenge, George chooses to kill Lennie himself, so that he would die out of love.
Yet with that death, Steinbeck seems to be showing the inadequacy of friendship in the modern world. Since ancient times, the idea of self-sacrifice for the sake of a friend has been a given. Yet the world has changed. In fact, that world existed under false pretenses. There is no room in this world for true friendship, at least the kind of friendship that George and Lennie share. Theirs is the old style of friendship based on mutual care, one where each friend is willing to lay down his life for the other. But there is a new definition of friendship. In this world, friendships are created for the benefit of one's self, which is not really friendship at all. This George knows. With resignation, he accepts the world as it is.