A Character Analysis of George and Lennie in John Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men”
John Steinbeck’s 1937 novel Of Miceand Men is the painful and difficult narrative of how the farmers and migrant ranch workers of California faced the horrifying consequences of the Great Depression. It is actually also a story of various struggles of people against their own selves – more particularly those of George and Lennie. From the ideas gleaned from the characters George and Lennie, Of Mice and Men is actually a demonstration of the fact that despite the horrors and difficult challenges of the Great Depression, some people could still afford to have dreams yet others would simply be clumsily strong. In Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, the character George actually does not need Lennie at all, despite the fact that he does really care about the latter’s safety, and that it is Lennie who needs George for the control, the goals and the sanity.
George is described as “small and quick, dark of face, with restless eyes and sharp, strong features” (Steinbeck 2). His restless eyes indicate quickness of thought and an obviously superior mental state compared to his companion Lennie. Although the George is short-tempered, he is devoted and loving to his friend Lennie. In fact, he never strays away from his purpose, which is to protect Lennie. One can see that George is kind for he never shows Lennie in any way that he is superior to the latter. In the first part of the novel, “both wore black, shapeless hats and both carried tight blanket rolls slung over their shoulders” (1-2). Both are dressed up in the same way with no differences in class and no indication whatsoever that one is better than the other. Perhaps George is doing this because either George does not want to assert his superiority to Lennie or that the other would most likely not be able to understand it anyway. Either way, one can see a man of goodness and empathy in George. In fact, when George talks to Slim about Lennie in Section 3, George says, “It ain’t so funny, him an’ me goin’ aroun’ together” (3.12). He then adds, “Got kinda used to each other after a little while” (3.12). These aforementioned statements from George somehow reveal to the reader that although he knows the rather obvious differences between him and his friend Lennie, he does not think that this is a problem at all or that it is weird or disgusting to be friends with a mentally-challenged man. In fact, it seems that George is proud of such a special relationship he has with Lennie.
This friendship that George has with Lennie somehow defines the similarities he has with him despite their physical and psychological differences. In fact, George ultimately defines the similarity between him and Lennie by telling the latter in Section 2: “If we can get jus’ a few dollars in the poke we’ll shove off and go up the American River and pan gold” (2.166). Moreover, in Section 3, George tells Lennie, “We’d just live there. We’d belong there. There wouldn’t be no more runnin’ around the country…we’d have our own place where we belonged….” (3.202). Through these statements, one can see that George is not only asserting his equality with Lennie but that he wants them to have the same kind of future. This is kindness, and this quality of George’s is shared by Lennie.
Lennie’s kindness is evident in his innocence. In Section 1, he tells George, “Tha’s good…You drink some, George…You take a good big drink” (1.7). As Lennie says these words, Steinbeck tells the readers that Lennie smiles. Through his first words in the play, Lennie’s kindness can be seen in the pureness of his actions, which also translates as the genuineness of his friendship with George. His delight in sharing a fun moment with his friend indeed simply defines the pureness of Lennie’s thought and kindness. The problem with Lennie – and the biggest difference he has with George – is that Lennie is so physically strong that he always ends up in trouble. The last straw is the death of Curley’s wife, whose neck Lennie unintentionally breaks in order to stop her from screaming because he is afraid of being scolded by George. Although Lennie is kind, he has a tendency to panic and although he is strong, he is too clumsy. George knows all these and he even tells Slim, “Sure, he’s jes like a kid…There ain’t no more harm in him than a kid neither, except he’s so strong” (3.44). Based on this aforementioned statement of George, Lennie is actually “jes like a kid” – innocent – yet he is “so strong,” which if combined with innocence turns out to be clumsiness and trouble. When Curley’s wife offers Lennie a chance to touch her hair, Lennie does not refuse to do it, and so gets himself into trouble. Lastly, Lennie is so different from George because the former is simply mentally-ill and he can conjure up fake images in his brain: “And then from out of Lennie’s head there came a little fat old woman” (50). He then talks to his old woman, who he calls as Aunt Clara, the woman who took care of him, from what George told Slim. Lennie, therefore, although kind, differs greatly from George in terms of the former’s physical strength, lack of control and mental unfitness.
Based, therefore, on the aforementioned character sketches of George and Lennie, it is obvious that Lennie needs George more. First of all, the former may be physically strong but clearly he does not realize his own strength. This is where a thinker like George comes in, in order to keep control of Lennie. Second, Lenny does not really have a dream and simply depends on what kind of future George has thought of giving him or living with him. In short, there is not any sign of independence of thought or action in Lennie, which means that he has to depend on George for what he should think or what he is supposed to do. Third, Lennie is mentally unwell, which means that he obviously cannot take care of himself without a sane, thinking man like George. The converse of these statements is also the reason why George does not need Lennie: George understands the value of self-control, he is the one who has dreamt their dream, and he has no mental illness. Thus, George has no need for Lennie at all. Perhaps, the reason why George decides to shoot Lennie on the back of his head in Section 6 towards the end of the story somehow makes the reader think that George actually DOES know how much he does not need Lennie and how much better his life would be without such an excess baggage.
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Steinbeck, J. Of Mice and Men. 2009. Mr. Pheaneuf’s Textaual Gumbo. 12 Apr 2012.