George is the protagonist and one of the two main characters in Of Mice and Men. A compassionate, kind, responsible, patient, and understanding man, he faithfully watches out for Lennie, his retarded friend and constant companion. When Lennie gets into trouble, George always helps him find a solution or get away. George is also shown to be a thinking person. He knows he must discipline Lennie in order to help him, and he is often seen telling Lennie what he has done wrong and what he must do to improve. He is also a planner, telling Lennie where he should go if there is trouble on the ranch. He also works hard to make the dream of owing a ten-acre farm become a reality. Unlike the other ranch hands that squander their money on women and drink, George refuses to spend a dime frivolously, saving everything to make the dream come true. He wants to buy the farm so that he and Lennie can live there, free from problems and constraints caused by society.
Sometimes George is portrayed as an angry man, for he gets frustrated with Lennie's slowness. Although he scolds and even screams at him, he is never intentionally mean or cruel. Several times George thinks about what he could do if Lennie were not around, but they are just idle thoughts. George is legally free to desert the retarded man at any point in time; emotionally, however, he is entirely bound to Lennie, as his protector and companion. Lennie also keeps George from feeling the isolation and loneliness that possess the other ranch hands.
Because George cares for Lennie so deeply, he cannot allow him to die brutally
at the hands of Curley and the angry ranch hands. After painting the picture
of the farm in Lennie's mind one last time, he takes Carlson's pistol
and mercifully shoots his friend, in a totally selfless act of kindness.
It was a terribly difficult thing for George to do, and at the end of
the book, Steinbeck paints him feeling lost and alone without his faithful
companion and without a dream to keep him going.
Lennie is George's friend and constant companion, who is mentally retarded and highly dependent on George. He suffers from a child's mentality within a giant's body. He is innocent and forgetful like a child. He is also attracted to small, soft things because of his child-like, gentle nature. Unfortunately, he often harms the things he loves accidentally. As a huge man with heavy arms and powerful hands, he does not know or understand his own strength.
Lennie idolizes George, his kind caretaker, almost like a god. In Lennie's eyes, George is totally kind, faithful, and good. He tries hard to remember everything George tells him to do and obeys him implicitly without asking any questions. Even though Lennie did not know how to swim, he jumped in a river one time when George jokingly told him to do so. Because Lennie is slow, forgetful, and powerful, he causes trouble for George wherever they go. They had to leave the last job because Lennie reached out and grabbed the dress of a little girl and would not let go. When she screamed, the townspeople came and blamed Lennie for attempted rape.
Lennie never means to cause problems. He did not mean to kill his puppy and greatly regrets that it is dead. He tries to stay away from Curley and his wife, as George suggested. She, however, comes to Lennie in the barn and tells him he can stroke her hair. When he is too rough, she begins to scream and Lennie panics. When he covers her mouth and shakes her to be quiet, he accidentally breaks her neck.
Throughout the book Lennie is portrayed as a dreamer. He longs to go and live
on a farm with George, away from the pressures and frustration of a society
that always gets him in trouble. He constantly dreams of raising soft
rabbits to be his pets on the farm. He senses that there are problems
on the ranch and with Curley and begs George to take him away to the farm.
At the end of the novel, when he and George talk by the stream, Lennie
again senses trouble and begs George to get the farm quickly. When George
pulls the trigger, Lennie is dreaming about the farm and the rabbits,
therefore, dying happily.
Candy is a very old ranch hand who is crippled and lonely. Steinbeck paints him as the sad, stereotyped symbol of old age, a man whose life is void of friends and hope. His dog, who is his only companion, is very much like him, old and crippled; but he also stinks and is blind. As a result, the ranch hands insist that Candy allow them to shoot the old mutt. When the dog is dead, Candy truly has nothing, no reason for existence. Then he overhears George and Lennie discussing their dream of owning a farm. Candy asks permission to join them and offers his life savings to help purchase the land. He wants to live his last days with a feeling of peace and belonging. At the end of his days, Candy does not want to be treated like his old dog.
When Candy finds Curley's wife dead, he is emotionally devastated and curses
her body, not because she has been killed, but because she put an end
to his dream. He instinctively knows who has killed Curley's wife and
what will happen to Lennie. As he realizes there will not be a farm without
Lennie, His eyes are blinded with tears.
He is left only with the reality of his lonely and isolated existence
on the ranch.
Curley's wife, the only woman on the ranch, is really a minor character in the story. In fact, she is never actually named in the course of the book. She serves only as the instrument of the destruction of Lennie and the dream. Steinbeck is not kind in his brief portrayal of her. She is a coarse, vulgar woman who wears too much make-up and flirts with every ranch hand. She has married Curley only because she had no other offers. Her true dream was to become an actress, but the man who was supposed to help her get in the movies failed her.
Like all the characters on the ranch, other than Lennie and George, Curley's
wife feels very lonely and isolated. She seems to hate her husband, as
evidenced when she compliments Lennie for crushing Curley's right hand
and granting permission for him to crush the other if need be. She constantly
looks for company and longs for an emotional attachment, seeking it in
all the wrong ways. It is strongly hinted that she has committed adultery,
for Curley is always on the lookout for her whereabouts, as if fearful
of her disloyalty. It is her loneliness and her flirtatious ways that
lead her to her death. She sits beside Lennie in the barn, even though
he protests against it. Then she asks him to stroke her hair. It is a
fatal mistake for her, because Lennie cannot be gentle. When she screams
out of fear for his strength, Lennie panics. He covers her mouth and shakes
her to be quiet; in the process he breaks her neck.
Curley is the boss' son, who has a short stature and a large temper. To make up for his small size, he became a lightweight boxer. Now he constantly tries to pick fights, especially with people bigger than himself, gaining great pleasure over their defeat. Curley's attitude suggests that he has a grudge against everyone whom he meets. He is overly possessive of his wife and suspects that every man on the ranch desires her. He wears a glove full of Vaseline to keep his hand soft for her and it becomes a source of constant jokes amongst the ranch hands. Though he seems to love his wife, he is an immoral character, visiting brothels on Saturday nights.
When Curley picks a fight with the giant Lennie, he bites off more than he can handle. Lennie quickly crushes his hand, and Curley has to be taken to the hospital. He vows to get revenge on Lennie. His opportunity comes quickly. When Lennie accidentally kills Curley's wife, her husband shows no mercy. He quickly organizes a search party to look for Lennie and promises to kill him immediately. Although Curley has been hated for his meanness throughout the book, the ranch hands now rally round him.
Armed and ready, they go off with Curley to search for Lennie, eager for blood.
Ironically, George stands in the way of Curley's being able to get his
revenge, for he mercifully kills Lennie to save him from Curley's wrath
and a brutal death.
Compared to his co-workers, Slim is confident in his conduct and clear
in his speech. As a result, he is treated with respect on the ranch. Steinbeck
portrays him as a thinker, His ears heard more than was said to him,
and his slow speech had overtones not of thought, but of understanding
beyond thought. He is quite surprised to see the loyalty and companionship
of George and Lennie and comments, Ain't many guys travel around together,
I don't know why. May be everybody in the whole damn world is scared of
each other. He is a good judge of people and quickly understands, that
in spite of his size, Lennie ain't mean. When Lennie crushes Curley's
hand, it is Slim who convinces him not to tell anyone about his fight
with Lennie. He is also the only one to understand why George has shot
Lennie at the end of the novel and reassures him that he had to do it.
He then insists upon taking George into town and buying him a drink.