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When the sound of the footsteps had died away, George turned on Lennie. "So you wasn't gonna say a word. You was gonna leave your big flapper shut and leave me do the talkin'. Damn near lost us the job."
Lennie stared helplessly at his hands. "I forgot, George."
"Yea, you forgot. You always forget, an' I got to talk you out of it." He sat down heavily on the bunk. "Now he's got his eye on us. Now we got to be careful and not make no slips. You keep your big flapper shut after this." He fell morosely silent. (2.56-59)
Loose lips sink ships… and just might get Lennie (if not George) thrown in jail, or worse—might lose them the opportunity to work the job that will help them buy their little bit of freedom.
"For two bits I'd shove out of here. If we can get jus' a few dollars in the poke we'll shove off and go up the American River and pan gold. We can make maybe a couple of dollars a day there, and we might hit a pocket."
Lennie leaned eagerly toward him. "Le's go, George. Le's get outta here. It's mean here."
"We gotta stay," George said shortly. "Shut up now. The guys'll be comin' in." (2.166-168)
George might have fantasies of panning for gold, but he's a realist. The freedom to starve while chasing a fool's dream is not the kind of freedom he wants.
Lennie said, "I thought you was mad at me, George."
"No," said George. "No, Lennie, I ain't mad. I never been mad, and I ain' now. That's a thing I want ya to know." (6.87-88)
Lennie's biggest fear isn't being locked up: it's being locked out. To him, being on George's bad side would be about worse than anything. Apparently freedom and confinement don't have to include locks.