Of Mice and Men is the story of two strong companions: semi-retarded Lennie and his friend and carer George. Set against the backdrop of depression-era California, this is a story of friendship and loneliness, compassion and cruelty, dreams and the harsh reality of life and death. The novel culminates in the death of Lennie, which has relevance to the themes present in the book: death, weakness, loneliness and hopeless dreams.During the story, Lennie is surrounded by death. However, in his childish perspective of the world he misses out on the dark and permanent side of death, the only impact it makes on his life is that he is fearful of the repercussions on his life and how George may not let him tend and take care of rabbits. Such is the case when he accidentally kills his baby puppy: “Why do you got to get killed? You ain’t so little as mice. Now I won’t get to tend the rabbits.
Now he won’t let me” (Lennie, Page 90) and when he kills Curley’s wife (Page 96-7). The only death in the novel that evokes a deep sense of loss, in both the reader and the characters, is the death of Lennie himself. These seemingly random and increasingly important deaths give extra significance to Lennie’s demise, as they gently build up over the course of the text to a climax when George shoots Lennie to prevent his torture by the lynch mob. This act bears a direct resemblance to the apparently merciful killing of Candy’s dog earlier in the novel.
Candy’s dog was old and useless, and was put out of a slow and painful death by Carlson. Lennie, as a wanted murderer, could no longer move on and work. He would be hunted down and killed horribly or put in jail. Thus, Lennie’s death is significant because it is the most hard-hitting death in the novel and mirrors the merciful death of Candy’s dog. Lennie is a quiet, simple but strong man with the mind of a child.
His whole life was, at first, under the care of his Aunt Clara and, later, under the care and control of his friend George. His death is significant as he was, in terms of emotional capacity and dominance, at the bottom of the food chain. Such instances when he has contact with people other than George (Talking with Curley the first time, Crooks torturing Lennie with the thought of losing George, Curley’s wife talking down to him in Crook’s bunkhouse, etc), he is bewildered and hopelessly dominated. Most of those characters who prey on others in the novel are merely the weak who attack the weaker.
Curley, as a short man with problems with self image, often fights and intimidates the ranch workers as he is the boss’s son and is almost above reprieve. Curley’s wife, once she revealed her broken dreams and vulnerability to Lennie, Candy and Crooks in Crook’s bunkhouse, immediately went on the offensive, insulting the three men and threatening to get Crooks lynched. The only people who do not intimidate others are Slim (The strong, respected skinner) and, to a lesser extent, George. These men are self confident and see no need to actively establish their position.
Lennie, as an innocent and intellectually limited man is unanimously seen as someone who is at the bottom of the heap and it is significant that in this position he met his demise.Lennie and George, as dedicated companions are a rare sight in the world of “of mice and men.” The boss of the ranch expresses surprise when he learns of Lennie and George’s companionship: “Well, I never seen one guy take so much trouble for another guy.” (Boss of the Ranch, Page 23). Lennie and George are also aware of their special relationship: “But not us! An’ why? Because, because I got you to look after me and you got me to look after you, and that’s why.” (Lennie, Page 14).
Even though everyone else seems to be alone and mercenary, Lennie and George share a unique and special bond. Other, lonely characters in the novel seek companionship or basic human contact in.