Last Updated on July 12, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1249
George and Lennie Stop at the River (Chapter 1): En route to a new job as ranch hands during the Great Depression, George Milton and Lennie Smalls rest beside a stream in California’s Salinas Valley. Due to Lennie’s mental disability, George carries both their work cards. They strategize for their first day at the ranch: George will get them settled, Lennie will say nothing. They make an emergency plan—meet in the brush by the river if anything goes wrong—before reciting their shared dream for the future: a farm of their own, with no one to tell them when to work or what to do, where Lennie can tend the rabbits.
Curley is Threatened by Lennie’s Size (Chapter 2): George and Lennie arrive at the ranch. Candy, the elderly swamper responsible for cleaning the bunk, orients George and Lennie in the bunkhouse. The boss enters, gathers George and Lennie’s work slips, and asks why they are late. George tells the boss that the bus they took dropped them off ten miles away from the ranch, and that they had to walk the rest of the way. The boss is instantly suspicious of Lennie and George, particularly as George does almost all the talking. George and Lennie discuss their situation after the boss leaves, thinking they are alone in the bunkhouse. George realizes Candy is listening in, and calls him out on it. Curley, the boss’s son, bursts into the bunkhouse, looking for his father. Curley acts aggressively and is equally suspicious of George and Lennie, as once again George tries to protect Lennie by talking for him. After Curley leaves, Candy explains that Curley is a boxer and is insecure about his size. When Curley sees a large man like Lennie, he often instigates a fight. Candy also explains that Curley’s wife has “got the eye,” meaning that she is flirtatious with other men, adding to Curley’s insecurities. After George warns Lennie to stay away from Curley, Curley’s wife enters the bunkhouse, presumably looking for Curley. When she can’t find Curley, she lingers and tries to flirt with George, who is curt with her. Lennie takes a liking to her, and after she leaves, George roughly admonishes Lennie, telling him not to touch Curley’s wife. George and Lennie then meet Carlson and Slim before heading to dinner.
Lennie Crushes Curley’s Hand (Chapter 3): Slim and George sit together in the bunkhouse, and George tells Slim about Lennie and why he takes care of Lennie. Slim’s dog has just had puppies, and Lennie, obsessed with soft things, is in the barn petting them. Lennie returns to the bunkhouse with a puppy, and tries to hide it from George, but George notices and tells him to take the puppy back to its mother. Lennie returns to the barn, and George assumes Lennie will want to sleep there with the dogs. Candy, Carlson, and Whit join Slim and George in the bunkhouse. Crooks, the stable buck, comes to the bunkhouse and tells Slim the tar is ready for his horse’s hooves. Slim joins Crooks in the barn, leaving George, Candy, and Whit in the bunkhouse. Curley stops by in a state of agitation and asks them if they have seen his wife. They answer no, and then Curley asks where Slim is. The men in the bunkhouse assume that Curley is jealous of Slim, as Curley thinks his wife is going around with Slim. Lennie returns to the bunkhouse, and he and George start talking about their dream to buy and run a farm. Candy overhears and offers to make their dream a reality by funding the venture with his savings if George and Lennie will accept him as a partner. They agree and decide to keep their idea a secret. Curley returns with Slim, Carlson, and Whit. Slim is angry with Curley, because Curley has accused Slim of going around with his wife. The tension in the bunkhouse escalates. Curley notices Lennie, who is still smiling happily and thinking about owning his own farm with George and Candy. Curley attacks Lennie, and at first Lennie doesn’t want to fight. George doesn’t let the other men interfere, and instead encourages Lennie to fight back. Lennie ends up grabbing Curley’s hand and crushing it. Lennie is upset about hurting Curley, but George assures him that Lennie did nothing wrong.
Lennie Interacts with Crooks (Chapter 4): George and the other men leave the ranch to go into town. Only Lennie, Candy, Crooks, and Curley’s wife are left. Lennie is unsure what to do without George and finds Crooks in his room. Lennie, not realizing that he’s bothering Crooks, lingers in Crooks’s doorway until Crooks invites him in. Lennie talks about the rabbits he will own, and Crooks realizes that Lennie won’t understand most of what Crooks says. Crooks talks about loneliness and the discrimination he has experienced his entire life as an African American. Crooks scares and angers Lennie by talking about the possibility of George leaving Lennie. Candy finds the two, and he also talks about the dream of owning a farm. Crooks is skeptical, but then offers to work for them if he can live on the farm as well. Curley’s wife comes in. Candy and Crooks are suspicious of her and don’t want to get into trouble with Curley. Crooks tells her to leave, and Curley’s wife threatens him with lynching. Curley’s wife leaves right before George and the men return. Candy and Lennie start to leave Crooks’s room, but not before Crooks takes back what he said about working with George, Lennie, and Candy on their own farm. Crooks returns to his state of loneliness after they leave.
Lennie Kills Curley’s Wife (Chapter 5): Lennie sits in the barn, distraught over having accidentally killed his puppy. Lennie is afraid that George won’t let him tend to the rabbits on their farm now that he has killed his puppy. Curley’s wife approaches Lennie. At first, Lennie rejects her efforts at conversation, telling her that she would only get Lennie and George into trouble. Curley’s wife becomes angry at Lennie’s refusal and expresses her frustration with the limits she faces as Curley’s wife. Lennie discusses rabbits and his proclivity to “pet nice things.” Curley’s wife feels that she understands and invites Lennie to stroke her hair. When he gets too rough, she panics, and Lennie accidentally breaks her neck in an attempt to quiet her. Lennie realizes the gravity of what he has done and remembers the emergency plan he and George made before coming to the ranch. Lennie tries to cover Curley’s wife with hay and then flees to the brush where he believes George will meet him. Candy finds Curley’s wife’s body first and then calls George. George knows immediately that it was Lennie. Curley falls into a cold rage and vows to shoot Lennie. Slim, George, Carlson, and Curley embark to find Lennie, but George is hesitant and apprehensive.
George Ends Lennie’s Life (Chapter 6): After Lennie flees, George finds him sitting near the river where they rested before going to the ranch for the first time. George asks Lennie to recite their shared dream for the last time. As he hears Curley and the lynch mob approaching, George shoots Lennie.
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