Of Mice and Men

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Of Mice and Men

Set in the 1930’s during the harsh Depression, John Steinbeck’s emotional novel ‘Of Mice and Men’ successfully explores the theme of friendship within a harsh environment. He portrays this through the characteristics and relationship between the protagonists, George and Lennie. The novel centers these characters who are two childhood friends who travel around together looking for work and face many struggles due to Lennie’s disabilities.
Steinbeck initially presents the reader with a clear image of the central characters, who are complete opposites. George is told to be “small and quick” with a thin figure. He is seen as being short-tempered but a loving and devoted friend. He always makes Lennie’s protection his primary purpose despite sometimes coming off impatient towards Lennie.
Lennie on the other hand, is very large with ‘sloping shoulders’ which leads the author to compare him to “the way a bear drags his paws”. Lennie is a very strong man with a child’s mind and this is the main problem that George and Lennie face in the novel. I think that Lennie is the least dynamic character as he is very flat and undergoes no significant changes in the novel and appears in the end exactly the same as when we first meet him. At the start of the novel we can clearly see that the author seems to have set Lennie up for disaster.
These very different qualities of the characters George and Lennie show the peculiarity of their friendship.
From the outset, Steinbeck sets the tone of George and Lennie’s relationship through George’s first words;

“Lennie for God’s sake’s don’t drink so much.
You gonna be sick like you was last night.”

Straight away we can clearly see that George is like a parental figure towards Lennie. Steinbeck also uses this line to illustrate the effort that is put into caring for Lennie. George’s tone towards Lennie suggests to the reader that that George sometimes resents Lennie and sees him as a burden. Steinbeck reflects this thought later on in the novel when George thinks about how his life could be so much easier if he didn’t have the burden of taking care of Lennie.

“If I was alone, I could live so easy.
I could go get a job and work no trouble.”

The author makes it evident that Lennie makes life harder for George as he always has to accommodate and find jobs for two.
The strength of the relationship between George and Lennie is pointed out in many key points of the novel. Steinbeck makes it apparent that at times George feels resentment about his role of Lennie’s carer. We can see that Lennie’s world revolves around George and that he is devoted to him unaware that his child’s mind is the cause for all the trouble they face.
A key incident, which shows the strength in George and Lennie’s friendship, is when they first start work at the farm.

“Funny how you an’ him string along together . . .
Hardly none of the guys travel around together . . .
It jus’ seems kinda funny a cuckoo like him and a smart little guy like you travellin’ together.”

Slim and the other workers find it rather odd that George and Lennie travel together as in the 1930’s, there was not much time for friendship and most itinerant workers just came and went by their selves as life was easier that way. However as Slim gets to know George and Lennie he soon realizes that their friendship is real and they really do care for each other.
Unlike Lennie, George does change as the story progresses. At the start of the novel, George seems to have a hardened sometimes gruff exterior but he has a soft side, which is shown, in his dreams of a haven where he can own his own land and protect Lennie from dangers.
A turning point for George’s character is revealed when the reader learns that he is capable of growth and change. This occurs during his conversation with Slim in which he admits that he used to abuse Lennie for his own amusement.

“I used to have a hell of a lot of fun with ‘im . . .
Why he’d do any damn think I tol’ him . . .
I’ve beat the hell outa him . . .
but he never lifted a finger against me.”

The tone in George’s voice was one of confession. He admits to taking advantage of Lennie but soon reveals what made him stop. This was that despite the fact that Lennie could not swim a stroke, he jumped into a river on George’s command. Lennie thanked George for saving him, forgetting that it was George who made him jump in the first place. From this incident, it seemed that George had learnt a moral lesson in which not to take advantage of Lennie simply because he was mentally weaker.
Lennie’s superhuman strength is portrayed throughout the novel as being a worry for George and ultimately this will have a significant impact on their friendship. An example of when Lennie’s strength overpowers him is when he accidentally kills Curley’s wife. In an encounter with her, Lennie becomes attracted to the softness of her hair. We learn in the novel that Lennie’s last encounter with a woman led to him falsely being accused of rape when that was not the case. Lennie never meant to kill Curley’s wife but it simply came about as he unintentially pulled too hard on her hair. She struggled to escape unaware that Lennie did not know what he was doing and as a result of his strength he broke her neck;

“And then she was still, for Lennie had broken her neck.”

This incident is a clear piece of evidence on how Lennie’s mind cannot tell when he is doing something wrong and his incredible strength takes over.
The impact in which Lennie’s child’s mind has on him is made evident when he realized that he has killed Curley’s wife:

“I done a bad thing. I done another bad thing.”

The simplicity of Lennie’s language reflects how his mind has not matured as even thought he realizes that he has done something wrong, he can only express it in such simple ways.
George and Lennie’s friendship is put to this test when Curley’s wife is found dead. George dreads the fact of Lennie being once again accused of something that he cannot control and did not mean. Not wanting to have to run away again George decides that he has to kill Lennie himself to save him from a merciless death in the hands of Curley’s mob. This killing foreshadows the death of Candy’s dog as he kills her out of mercy. George meets Lennie and tells him the story of the farm that they hoped to one day own. As Lennie’s mind is set on his rabbits and the farm George shoots him.

“He pulled the trigger . . .
Lennie jarred, and then settled slowly forward to the sand,
and he lay without quivering.”

This incident shows the reader how much George cared for Lennie and that he would go to any length to protect him no matter what the consequences. When he kills Lennie he also puts to rest his dream of a perfect, fraternal world, as Lennie was what kept that dream alive. This ending was to be expected as from the start this tragic ending for Lennie seemed inevitable. This is where George realizes that he needed Lennie just as much as Lennie needed him.
By the end of the novel, George and Lennie’s relationship is stronger than ever, even after George kills Lennie. George realizes that all he ever wanted was to be with Lennie and have that friendship. Through the development of characterization and the relationship between George and Lennie, Steinbeck effectively explores the theme of friendship within a harsh environment. Also Steinbeck successfully reflects on how a strong friendship with someone is all that most people want.

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