‘Of mice and men’ is a tale of loneliness and hardship felt by the people living in America during the 1930’s. Written by John Steinbeck and published in 1937, it tells the heartbreaking story of two ranch workers during the depression; George Milton and Lennie Small. At the time America was very poor, with a shortage of jobs so people had to travel in search of new jobs. As many people were constantly moving, lasting friendships or relationships were hard to come across. People became scared to have friendships, scared of each other making them lonely and isolated.
Most of the characters lived by ‘every man for himself’; only having to care for themselves, not having to worry about others and therefore making it easy to move on when need be. However, George and Lennie are vastly different; they have each other, they have grown up together, they travel together, they’re best friends and they depend on each other. George and Lennie keep each other going. George depends on Lennie for physical protection, whereas Lennie needs George for mental protection; George is the thinker but Lennie’s the fighter.
They rely on each other to balance things out. Lennie is George’s muscle; he is a huge man and as strong as bull. He helps him to get jobs on ranches, as he is a good worker. Also Lennie would rather die than see George hurt, so he would protect him with his life. While George is Lennie’s brains, as Lennie is mentally retarded so incapable of making any decision on his own, but George is quick witted and shrewd, so tries to stop Lennie from making accidental problems for himself, although when things do go wrong George is the one that has to clean up the mess.
When they first arrive at the ranch some of the characters are surprised or confused about the friendship, “Well, I never seen one guy take so much trouble for another guy. I just like to know what your interest is”. The ranch owner asks George this as he isn’t used to men just doing things for other men just because they’re friends, so George tells him they’re cousins, which they aren’t but Lennie’s aunt has brought up George so he feels like he must look after him now she’s dead. Lennie and George share a secret dream that, one day they will build a life together on a ranch and ‘livin’ off the fatta the lan’.
Most of the characters have a dream, and it’s their dreams that help them survive through this period, because without dreams there is no hope for a better life, a life without solitude. Right from the start, the book indicates the theme of solitude, as Soledad; where the scene is set, means solitude in Spanish (Soledad is in California, which was invaded by Mexico). Soledad is also described as a small town with a large heart, this could describe George. “Guys like us, that live on ranches, are the loneliest guys in the world. ” George is echoing this fact of loneliness which other characters will later mirror.
He knows that without Lennie he would be alone, yet he is still lonely in his relationship with Lennie, as they are both on different levels. George needs someone on his wave length but Lennie is like a child, so George sometimes gets lonely looking after Lennie. Steinbeck uses animals in the book to paint a picture of a person, or to symbolize a meaning or action. Lennie is portrayed as different animals quite regularly. To begin with he is compared to a bear “… and he walked heavily, dragging his feet a little, the way a bear drags his paws. “. We can now picture the way Lennie walks heavily and slowly, as he is giant like a bear.
The next thing he does is very animal-like; he drops to his knees and slurps water from the river, just like a horse or a dog. “You’d drink out of a gutter if you was thirsty. ” From George’s comment we now see a man with a lack of intelligence who drinks like an animal. Then he is described as a terrier, “Slowly, like a terrier who doesn’t want to bring a ball to its master, Lennie approached, drew back, approached again. ” Lennie doesn’t want to give the mouse back to George but knows there will be consequences if he does not obey; this shows us that George is Lennie’s master. This animal imagery carries on through the book.
This presents Lennie as almost less than human. It continued right till the end of the book when Lennie returns to where the book began. Lennie’s movement is compared to that of a bear, “As silently as a creeping bear moves”, when he gets to the river he falls to his knees and laps up the water like an animal, just as he did at the beginning of the book. The book rounds off nicely; starting just where it had begun. Plus the first and last scenes are both described in the same manner, and both scenes talk of a water snake, with a periscope head slithering across the deep green river.
In the first scene it’s just sliding along no problems. However in the last scene, as it copies this gilding along the river, it’s eaten by a heron. The heron symbolizes Lennie’s destiny. The first scene is set at sunrise, at the beginning of the week and the beginning of George and Lennie’s journey. When the week is ending and the sun is setting Lennie is shot, this the end of his journey (and the last scene of the book), but for George it’s just the beginning of guilt, despair and true loneliness. Crooks, Curley, Candy and Curley’s wife are all lonely, but all for different reasons such as discrimination and prejudice.
Crooks is a black man who has always been pushed aside from every group. He is treated as second class, he doesn’t (just like Curley’s wife) have a name, only a nickname- a disrespectful nickname that also mocks his disability, furthermore he is not allowed to participate in the things the other men do. He sleeps alone; away from everyone else “A guy goes nuts if he ain’t got nobody. Don’t matter no difference who the guy is, longs he with you. I tell ya a guy gets too lonely an he gets sick”. Crooks is sick, he is so isolated that he has become harsh and twisted.
He takes advantage of Lennie because he is the only person he can take advantage of, the only person with not enough brains to know when he’s taking advantage of them, the only person (because he is mentally retarded) Crooks feels like he’s above. Crooks is insulted that someone as stupid as Lennie has a friend and he hasn’t, so he tries to mentally torture him by saying, “Well, s’pose, jus’ s’pose he don’t come back. What’ll you do then? ” He is saying this to wound Lennie, to bring him down to his lonely level. Crooks is desperate for acceptance, to be part of something, he would work for nothing if it meant being with others.
He even offers his services to Candy to work on their “dream ranch” to join in on the friendship and dream shared by Lennie and George, in order to leave behind him his lonely life. Candy, is an outcast because his age and disability, making him different from the rest of the men on the ranch, but he isn’t bitter about it like Crooks. He always tries to talk to them as much as he can. Candy has one true friend, his dog. However, when his dog dies, he has to look elsewhere for friendship. He hopes that these friends can be George and Lennie. Because of his age and disability, he feels useless “They’ll call me purty soon”.
Candy thinks that nobody wants to be friends with him because of his disability. Eventually, he tries to find friendship by attempting to join the dream of George and Lennie. Candy offered his services to become a part of George and Lennie’s friendship and dream, “Maybe if I give you guys my money, you’ll let me hoe in the garden” This is one of Candy’s desperate attempts to find a place a meaning in life by making himself useful to someone, because at that time if you were old and you were useless, and you haven’t got no one to care for you, there weren’t nursing homes for you to go in; you were on your own . And who wants to die alone?
After Candy lost his dog, he felt much lonelier than he was before. The dog was something that was Candy’s own. Candy felt like the dog was part of him; it was old, disabled and played no real part on the ranch- just like Candy. When the dog is shot, Candy feels like he could be easily disposed of too. The ranch does not need him, but he needs the ranch because without it he has nothing. Candy wishes he shot his dog instead of letting Carlson do it for him; his dog was his only friend and letting a stranger kill him, caused Candy much guilt. This foreshadows the fact that George will shoot Lennie instead of letting Curley do it.
Curley’s wife is also very lonely, even though Curley’s wife is mentioned frequently, nobody asks what her name is. Nobody wants to talk to her because people are afraid of Curley; he is jealous and would start a fight with anyone who tried approaching her. She does not like Curley, and furthermore he doesn’t talk to her at all and there’s no-one in her life who cares about her.
The men on the ranch see her as a tart, which she is not, she dresses and acts the way she does as that is the only way she knows how to get attention. “What’s the matter with me? Ain’t I got a righ to talk to nobody? , She takes every chance she gets to talk to anyone, but there are no women on the ranch, and the men are afraid to talk to her. Curley’s wife like everyone had a dream, and hers was to be a Hollywood star. However, her mum quickly put a stop to any chance she had of this dream becoming reality. This caused her to rebel; leaving home early and marrying a man she doesn’t love. Curley’s wife like Candy has nothing of her own; she has no friends, no loving husband, no-one to talk to and nothing to do but most of all she has no name, she belongs to her mistake of a husband and always will do.
Her husband is also lonely however his loneliness is more self-inflicted then his wife’s. As the boss’s son he is automatically feared, he is also an ex-boxer- this enhances the fear. The other ranch workers really dislike him; he doesn’t work like the other workers because he’s the boss’s son and he’s arrogant, vain and aggressive. ‘He glanced coldly at George and then at Lennie. His arms gradually bent at the elbows and his hands closed into fists. He stiffened and went into a slight crouch. His glance was at once calculating and pugnacious. Curely is always looking for a fight, he is probably very insecure so he picks on or scares weaker characters.
For example he is insecure about his wife so he becomes possessive and controlling- this caging her more, making her turn to others for attention (flirting with the ranch workers) and creating a bigger distance between them. Curely is also small this is very important to his character, he doesn’t like being small, it won’t of helped when he was a boxer and maybe he threatens others to make himself feel ‘bigger’, this is also the reason why he picks on Lennie; he is little so he hates big guys.
Curley can’t connect with the others as they fear being fired (probably more than they fear him), so even if he wasn’t violent and unkind he would probably still be lonely. This book shows us how loneliness is like a disease. It effects nearly every character in the book, no matter how old, how young, how rich, how poor, it doesn’t matter. It gets them all, not because of who they are, but the society that they live in. Their society is sexist, is racist, it outcasts the mentally retarded and most of all its broke.
These things are what drive people into isolation and compel people to bitterness and resentment (like Crooks), or to being a trouble making tart (like Curley’s Wife), or to depression and desperation (like Candy) or just anger (like Curley). It’s hard to survive in that society with emotional baggage, because it just hurts all more if you lose it. The penalty of losing something as hard to find then as friendship, I believe is greater than not having it at all, even if that makes us lonely.
Loneliness spread through the whole of America, George and Lennie were a glint hope; somehow through the harsh depression and their immense differences they still managed to have a strong friendship. However when one of the members of a friendship is removed, it causes misery and pain; when Candy lost his dog, he kept thinking about him, and felt awful because he kept thinking that he should have shot his dog himself. When George had to shoot Lennie, he felt terrible, because he had just shot his best friend, his lifetime companion, his only friend in the world.
Because of this, he has to live the rest of his life, in guilt, alone and knowing that he killed his only friend. George now will have to start again, which is a hard process, because he will have taken the habit of his friend and being comfortable in his relationship and opening up towards others is harder. Lennie and George depended on each other, they were best friends, part of each other, now Lennie’s dead George will never be the same again. And he will forever feel like a part of him has died to. So is it truly better to have loved and lost than never loved at all?