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"Well, Curley's pretty handy," the swamper said skeptically. "Never did seem right to me. S'pose Curley jumps a big guy an' licks him. Ever'body says what a game guy Curley is. And s'pose he does the same thing and gets licked. Then ever'body says the big guy oughtta pick on somebody his own size, and maybe they gang up on the big guy. Never did seem right to me. Seem like Curley ain't givin' nobody a chance." (2.93)
Candy may not be too smart, but he's smart enough to get it: Curley's gaming the system. It may not be very fair or just for someone like Lennie to pound on a little guy like Curley—but it's also not fair of Curley to provoke Lennie, knowing that Lennie's going to get in trouble for not picking on someone his own size.
"Don't let him pull you in—but—if the son-of-a-bitch socks you—let 'im have it." (2.131)
The 9th rule of Ranch Fight Club is that, if someone challenges you, you must fight.
His [Slim's] ear heard more than was said to him, and his slow speech had overtones not of thought, but of understanding beyond thought. His hands, large and lean, were as delicate in their action as those of a temple dancer. (2.170)
Slim might as well have a direct line to God, the way Steinbeck talks about it. Someone get this man a Supreme Court nomination.