Of Mice and Men
John Steinbeck
Contributed by Joslyn Justiniano
Section 3
Summary

From Slim and George returning to the bunkhouse to George comforting Lennie after the fight with Curley

George and Slim go back to their bunkhouse at the end of the workday. Slim has said he will give one of the puppies to Lennie, and George is grateful for this kindness. He declares that will Lennie is “dumb as hell,” he’s not mean or crazy. Slim likes the friendship George has with Lennie, stating that it is a pleasant thing to see in a world where it appears no one ever “seems to give a damn about nobody.” George tells Slim about how he and Lennie came to be friends. He explains they were born in the same town, and that George took on responsibility for Lennie following the death of Lennie’s Aunt Clara. George admits that he initially bullied Lennie a bit, pushing him to do ridiculous things, including jumping into a river when he didn’t know how to swim. When Lennie almost drowned on this occasion, George felt terribly ashamed of what he had done. After that, he had always taken care of his friend, making sure to protect him. For instance, when they were in the town where they most recently worked, Weed, Lennie got himself into trouble by grabbing a girl’s dress because it looked soft and holding on because he panicked when she pulled away. George had to hit him over the head until he let go. As a result of this, Lennie was accused of rape and the two men were forced to conceal themselves in an irrigation ditch to avoid a lynch mob.

Lennie has his new puppy beneath his coat when he comes into the bunkhouse. George chides him for stealing the creature away from its mother. Lennie goes to return the puppy to its litter,  and Carlson and Candy appear. Carlson starts making comments again about Candy’s dog, claiming that it smells and that it “ain’t no good to himself.” He pushes Candy to shoot it. Candy objects that he has had the dog for too long to kill it. Carlson keeps on pressuring him, and after a while Candy joins him, saying that shooting the dog would be a mercy to it, as it is suffering. Slim declares that he can have a puppy and urges him to allow Carlson to kill the dog. Whit, another farmhand, comes in and shows Slim a letter from a man they once worked with that was published in a pulp magazine. The letter was written in praise of the publication. The men are amazed by the accomplishment the letter represents and Carlson offers to give the dog as quick death by shooting the animal in the back of the head. Candy hesitates but gives in. Carlson brings the dog outside, assuring Slim that will bury the corpse. A few nervous moments of silence pass before a shot is heart. Candy turns to the wall.

Crooks, a black stable-hand, appears. He informs Slim that he has warmed up a bit of tar to apply to a mule’s foot. Slim leaves, and the other men spend time playing cards and talking about Curley’s wife. They agree that the young woman will cause trouble for someone. George declares that she is “a jailbait all set on the trigger.” White asks George to come with them to a local brothel the next night. Whit says he thinks old Susy’s place is better than Clara’s, as it is cheaper and has nicer chairs. George declares that he cannot waste any money, as he and Lennie are working to save up a “stake.” Carlson and Lennie come in. Carlson avoids looking in Candy’s direction as he cleans his gun. Curley comes in, again searching for his wife. He is jealous and suspicious, and he asks for Slim’s whereabouts. When he finds out that Slim is in the barn, he sets off to that building. Carlson and Whit follow him, eager to see a fight.

Georges inquires of Lennie whether he saw Curley’s wife with Slim in the barn, and Lennie assures him that he didn’t. George tells his friend about the kind of trouble that women can cause, and Lennie asks him to describe the farm they dream of having one day. Candy listens to what George says, and he is intrigued by the idea of such a wonderful place. He asks whether the farm actually exists. A bit guarded at first, George soon says that it does and that the owners are keen to find buyers. Candy is excited by the prospect, and he offers to give them his life’s savings if they will let him live there, too. He is worried that he will be let go by the ranch soon because he is crippled and old. The men say that once they do one month of work on the ranch, they’ll have enough saved for a down payment on the property. George instructs the other two men not to say anything about their plan to anyone. The other men’s voices are heard approaching, and Candy quietly confides in George that he should have shot the old dog himself. He feels it was wrong to let a stranger do it.

Whit, Carlson, Curley, and Slim come back. Curley tells Slim he’s sorry for his suspicions. He’s mocked by the other men. Aware that Slim is too strong for him to defeat in a fight, Curley looks for another target for his anger. He sees Lennie as an easy target. Lennie is another world, smiling with delight as he thinks of his future on his and George’s own farm. Curley attacks Lennie, as the latter man begs him to stop. Lennie’s face becomes bloodied by Curley’s punches. George pushes Lennie to fight back, and he tells him to grab Curley’s hand. When Lennie crushes Curley’s right hand, he breaks it with hardly any effort. Slim brings Curley to a doctor. He warns him that if he tries to get Lennie and George fired, he’ll be laughed at by the other men on the ranch. Curley agrees that he will not try to get them dismissed. George consoles Lennie, assuring him that he didn’t cause the fight and that there’s nothing for him to worry about. Lennie’s only anxiety is that he won’t get the chance to tend rabbits on their future farm. George promises him that he will.

Analysis

The origins of George’s friendship with Lennie is laid out during his conversation with Slim. Lennie and George became friends as children, as this relationship as developed into a companionship in adulthood. George took advantage of his friend and teased him for years, but one day he realized that what he was doing was wrong. He came to understand it was morally unacceptable to torment a weaker being for amusement. This idea stands in contrast to the cruel world in which the ranch-hands exist, in which the weak are hunted and eliminated by the strong. In this part of the book, Candy’s dog being shot demonstrates the kind of process by which the weak are swept aside. While the dog no longer has any use in corralling sheep, it has emotional importance to Candy. It is clear that the man is very attached to his old pet. In the cruel world set out in this novel, however, it is not an option to let the animal live until it dies of old age. Carlson asserts that the dog is unworthy of this kind of devotion because of its infirmity. The only thing he can do to console Candy is to promise that the death will be quick and merciful. Slim, the most trusted source of wisdom in the novella, agrees with this. This confirms that the society depicted in the story is one where the disempowered and weak have little hope of protection.

We’d just go to her,” George said. “We wouldn’t ask nobody if we could. Jus’ say, ‘We’ll go to her,’ an’ we would. Jus’ milk the cow and sling some grain to the chickens an’ go to her.”

We see that nearly of the story’s characters are in some way disempowered. This might be through class, age, race, mental or physical handicap, or gender. Almost everyone in the book is excluded from the structures of social power, and the result of this exclusion is suffering. Merciless rules dictate that old men are banished from the ranch when they are no longer able to be useful, and black workers aren’t allowed to come into the bunkhouse. While this world is cruel and difficult, there are occasional small comforts. The dream George and Lennie share is one such escape. Their vision’s power centers on a simple yet idyllic life on a little farm, and it soothes and comforts them in their afflictions. In the novella’s opening chapter, this dream is like a salve for George and Lennie after their expulsion from Weed. At this point, it helps bring Candy out of mourning for his beloved dog. When he hears Lennie and George talking about their plans, he appears desperate to be part of their paradise. Talking about the dream of a farm is also great comfort to Lennie, and it helps calm him after he is upset by Curley. While it’s true that Candy’s assistance will make the task of buying the farm easier to accomplish, it becomes clear that tragic events will get in the way. In the end, George’s story is only a temporary reprieve from the sad and unfair world.

The author moves forward with his narrative toward the inevitable tragic events through numerous instances of foreshadowing in this part of the novel. What we learn about Lennie’s behavior in Weed and his actions during his altercation with Curley demonstrate how he tends to exert powerful strength when frightened and confused. When this is combined with the fact that he used to accidentally kill mice while trying to pet them, it heavily foreshadow Lennie’s inadvertent killing of Curley’s wife in the novella’s climactic scene. Additionally, the method used when Carlson kills Candy’s old dog (a shot to the back of the head) is sadly the same way George will kill Lennie. It isn’t a coincidence that shortly after George tells Slim that he has been friends with Lennie since childhood, Candy declares that he would never be able to kill his dog, as he has “had him since he was a pup.” When Candy tells George that he wishes he had shot the dog himself and not had a stranger do it, this foreshadows how George will decide to kill Lennie himself instead of allow Curley and the others to murder him.

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