Of Mice and Men
John Steinbeck
Contributed by Joslyn Justiniano
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Section 6
Summary

From Lennie’s arrival at the riverbed to the end of the story

It is described to be a peaceful, beautiful late afternoon at the same riverbed where the narrative began. There is a heron eating water snakes that appear beneath its legs, standing in a green pool. Lennie rushes through the undergrowth and then goes to his knees by the water to have a drink. He feels proud for remembering the place that George said to come. Soon, he experiences two unnerving visions. His Aunt Clara is said to appear “from out of Lennie’s head.” Speaking in Lennie’s voice, she berates him for failing to listen to George and getting into trouble. He has caused so many problems for his cherished friend. After this, a giant rabbit shows itself. It begins to speak, and it uses Lennie’s voice. It says that George will likely beat and abandon him. At this point, George appears. He seems listless and is very quiet. Lennie is surprised when he doesn’t berate him. Lennie pushes him to tell him off for what he’s done, but everything George says seems unconvincing. He simply says what he usually does when reproaching Lennie. Lennie offers to leave and live in a cave, but George says to stay. This makes Lennie feel hopeful.

Lennie asks George to tell him the story of their farm. George begins, musing on how most men are lonely and have no companions but he and Lennie will always have one another. Noises of people coming through the woods get closer, and George instructs Lennie to remove his hat and look across the river while he continues to describe the farm. He talks about the rabbis, promising that no one will ever treat him badly again. Lennie responds, “Le’s do it now,” Lennie says. “Le’s get that place now.” George says they will. Carlson’s gun has been taken out of his jacket, and George lifts it up. He shoots Lennie in the back of the head. Lennie falls to the ground, dead. George throws the gun away from him, and he sits on the riverbank.

The lynch party hears the shot, and it runs to the clearing. George is questioned by Carlson. He leads the men to believe that he struggled with Lennie for the gun and shot him with it. Slim is the only person who comprehends what really occurred. He says to George, “You hadda, George. I swear you hadda.” George is overcome with grief, and Slim leads him away. Curley and Carlson remain shocked, pondering what is “eatin’ them two guys.”

Analysis

The scene begins at the clearing in the woods. The riverbed and everything surrounding it are described as idyllically beautiful. There are many details from the book’s opening passages repeated here. These include the quality of the sunlight, the water snakes that have heads resembling “periscopes,” and the mountains in the distance. At this point, though, the suffering of innocents impedes on the beauty of nature. Steinbeck provides a vivid description of a large heron that’s bending forward to take an innocent snake out of the water. The bird then waits as a different snake swims towards it. Death arrives quickly and without mercy to the unaware. When Lennie arrives, it seems obvious what kind of fate awaits him.

Sadness pervades the final scene between Lennie and George, even though Lennie is blissfully ignorant until death. In order to comfort Lennie, George tells the story of their farm one more time. At first, he gives the impression that he is angry. He soon assures Lennie that he is forgiven, though, and tells the story of their dream. When George tells Lennie this story for the last time, he is surrendering his dream. His vision of a happy future life flies away, and George understands that all of his plans will come to nothing. He is the type of man he was always terrified of admitting he was: one of a massive army of migrant workers who will never have enough money for anything that could transform his life for the better. Now bereft of Lennie, George gives up his hope for more. Lennie was the only part of his life that made his life different than those of the other men. He had a clear sense of purpose. He cannot sustain his dreams without his friend. The story ends on a somber note, indicating that there is no place for dreams in such an unjust world.

The other men see Lennie’s body as only that of a half-wit and murderer who deserved his death. It is only Slim, the wisest among them, who comprehends the profound nature of George’s loss and the fact that George needs consolation. Curley and Carlson only watch, confused, as Slim leads George away. It is more ignorance than lack of empathy that causes their lack of understanding, though. Carlson and Curley are representative of the real world’s harsh and heartless conditions. It is a world where the weak live in a state of great vulnerability, invariably destroyed by the strong. The loss of true friendship cannot be properly mourned because it’s not understood.

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