A sad Lennie is alone in the barn on Sunday afternoon. He indulges in a monologue with his dead puppy. He has accidentally killed it while they were playing. He is afraid that now George will not let him have any rabbits on the farm. He thinks about burying the pup and not telling George about it; but he knows that George, as always, will sense the truth.
Curley's wife walks into the barn. Lennie takes a defensive stance against her, for George has warned him to stay away from her. She, however, forces herself on him, growing emotional when Lennie refuses to talk to her. She notices the dead puppy and tells him not to worry about it, for no one will be upset. She also talks about her childhood and tells him about her loneliness. She explains her story about the guy who promised to get her into the movies and failed to do so. She even tells Lennie about how much she dislikes her husband. As she talks about her broken dreams, she occasionally checks to see if Lennie is listening.
Lennie keeps telling Curley's wife that he is not supposed to talk to her, but she ignores him. When he tells her that he wants to raise rabbits, she asks why he likes them so much. Lennie explains how he loves soft things. She asks Lennie if he would like to stroke her soft hair. When Lennie does so, she grows fearful at the strength she feels in his hands. Raising her voice, she asks him to stop. Lennie is scared that George is going to hear her, so he covers her mouth with his huge palms in order to quiet her. He begs her to be quiet and bemoans the fact that she is going to get him into trouble. She struggles to get away, but his strength is far too great for her fragile body. With no intention of harming Curley's wife, he shakes her and accidentally breaks her neck, just as he has accidentally killed his puppy.
Lennie realizes the terrible mistake he has committed. He then remembers what George has asked him to do in case of trouble. He picks up the dead puppy, quickly leaves the ranch, and heads to the stream to hide in the bushes.
Old Candy comes searching for Lennie and finds Curley's wife, who is dead. He is stunned by the sight and runs out to tell George about it. On seeing the body of Curley's wife, George is dumbfounded. He realizes that Lennie is responsible for her death; but he also knows that it had to have been an accident. Lennie is incapable of intentional murder. He also knows that Curley and the other ranch hands will have no mercy on Lennie. George must think and act quickly. He asks Candy to inform the others about the incident, and he heads back to the bunkhouse. Before he looks for Curley, Candy curses the dead body, blaming her for ruining his plans for the farm.
When summoned, Curley is quick to guess who the culprit might be. He swears
to kill Lennie as soon as he is found. He organizes a search party, and
tells the men to grab their guns. George begs Curley not to shoot Lennie,
but he does not agree. The men set out, armed with their shotguns. Carlson
reports that his gun is missing, and everyone assumes that Lennie has
The accidental death of the puppy in Lennie's strong hands is intentional foreshadowing to prepare the reader for the accidental death of Curley's wife in Lennie's strong hands. As the chapter opens, Lennie is seen in the barn, grieving over the dead pup. He senses that he has done something wrong, but feels it is not bad enough to cause him to hide in the bushes. At the same time, he knows that George will not be pleased with him and worries that he might not be able to have any rabbits.
Curley's wife happens to appear in the barn when Lennie is most sad and vulnerable and, in spite of Lennie's opposition, sits next to him. She tells him not to worry about the dead puppy and talks about her unrealized dreams and the loneliness she feels on the ranch. Lennie talks about the farm that he and George are going to buy and the rabbits he is going to raise. When she learns how much Lennie likes soft things, she flirtatiously asks him if he wants to stroke her soft hair.
Unfortunately, Lennie does not know how to be gentle; his large hands are just too powerful. Curley's wife grows fearful, screams for him to stop, and struggles to get away. To silence her, he covers her mouth and shakes her. As always, Lennie does not realize his strength and breaks her neck. When he feels her limp body, he knows he has done something really terrible. He picks up the dead pup and heads for the stream to hide in the brush.
Even though the scene in the barn must have been a violent one, Steinbeck is careful not to convey that image. He simply shows Lennie whimpering as he covers the mouth of Curley's wife, begs her not to scream, and shakes her. Then he reveals her death with total simplicity, stating, And then she was still, for Lennie had broken her neck. The style is remarkable, for the words capture the suddenness of the act and the stillness of the moment.
In earlier chapters, the author has carefully developed Lennie as a totally naive innocent. He remains the same innocent character, even after Curley's wife is killed. It is clear to the reader that Lennie intended no harm, and there was no malice. In fact, he is totally perplexed over what has happened in the barn. The only thing he knows is that this is trouble, and he needs to go and hide in the bushes. He also knows that when George finds out that he was talking to Curley's wife and what has happened to her, he will be angry and probably not let him have any rabbits.
When Curley rightly guesses who the culprit is, he wants revenge on Lennie -- for his wife's death and for his crushed hand. He tells all the men to arm themselves for a search party. Carlson reports that his gun is missing, and the assumption made by all is that Lennie has taken the pistol. The reader, however, knows that Lennie has headed straight to the bushes and realizes that George had a purpose in going to the bunkhouse alone.
It is important to realize that the death of Curley's wife causes yet another
shattered dream. Candy is first to realize what will happen to their plans
for the farm and curses her dead body for destroying his hopes. George
also knows that nothing will ever again be the same. He begs Curley not
to kill his friend, but there is no agreement. Ironically, George had
earlier complained that Lennie's presence in his life prevented him from
doing normal things; now he will find that life without Lennie causes
the real abnormality for him. He, like the other ranch hands, will learn
to live a life of loneliness.