"Guys like us, that work on ranches, are the loneliest guys in the world. They got no family. They don't belong no place. They come to a ranch an' work up a stake and then they go inta town and blow their stake, and the first thing you know they're poundin' their tail on some other ranch. They ain't got nothing to look ahead to." (1.113)
It's hard out there for a ranchhand. Steinbeck seems to be saying that the loneliness is even worse than the poverty: like Lennie and George, you can bear a lot more if you have a friend.
"I was only foolin', George. I don't want no ketchup. I wouldn't eat no ketchup if it was right here beside me."
"If it was here, you could have some."
"But I wouldn't eat none, George. I'd leave it all for you. You could cover your beans with it and I wouldn't touch none of it." (1.93-95)
Lennie may not be able to look out for George, but he does what he can for his friend—like give him all the imaginary ketchup.
Lennie, who had been watching, imitated George exactly. He pushed himself back, drew up his knees, embraced them, looked over to George to see whether he had it just right. He pulled his hat down a little more over his eyes, the way George's hat was. (1.10)
Sure, it seems like Lennie is about to go Single White Female on George. Instead, this is just part of his mental handicap: George is less of a friend than parent, role model, and idol all wrapped up into one.
They had walked in single file down the path, and even in the open one stayed behind the other. Both were dressed in denim trousers and in denim coats with brass buttons. Both wore black, shapeless hats and both carried tight blanket rolls slung over their shoulders. (1.4)
This is our first introduction to Lennie and George. On the one hand, we know right away that they're not equals: one man is walking behind another. On the other hand, they're dressed identically. Is this a relationship of equals? Or is inequality always a part of friendships?
"We travel together," said George coldly.
"Oh, so it's that way."
George was tense and motionless. "Yea, it's that way." (2.80-82)
By saying "Oh, so it's that way," Curley is essentially accusing Lennie and George of being gay. But George doesn't take the bait. It just shows how pathetic Curley is that he can't understand the men's friendship.
"It ain't so funny, him an' me goin' aroun' together," George said at last. "Him and me was both born in Auburn. I knowed his Aunt Clara. She took him when he was a baby and raised him up. When his Aunt Clara died, Lennie just come along with me out workin'. Got kinda used to each other after a little while." (3.12)
Aw. We can't think of a better description of friends than people who "got kinda used to each other."
The old man [Candy] squirmed uncomfortably. "Well-hell! I had him so long. Had him since he was a pup. I herded sheep with him." He said proudly, "You wouldn't think it to look at him now, but he was the best damn sheep dog I ever seen." (3.56)
This is almost the exact same thing that George says about Lennie: he's "had him so long." But can you really be friends with a dog? Or someone who's way mentally inferior to you?
Crooks scowled, but Lennie's disarming smile defeated him. "Come on in and set a while," Crooks said. "'Long as you won't get out and leave me alone, you might as well set down." His tone was a little more friendly. (4.22)
Crooks has been lonely and friendless for so long that he almost can't deal with someone trying to be nice to him. Psst, Crooks: you win more friends with honey. Or something like that.
"George can tell you screwy things, and it don't matter It's just the talking. It's just bein' with another guy. That's all." (4.39-40)
You know how you have those hour-long phone conversations with your best friend about absolutely nothing? (No? IM chats then, or however kids communicate these days.) That's what Crooks is talking about. It doesn't matter what you're talking about—just that you're making a connection.
"With us it ain't like that. We got a future. We got somebody to talk to that gives a damn about us. We don't have to sit in no bar room blowin' in our jack jus' because we got no place else to go. If them other guys gets in jail they can rot for all anybody gives a damn. But not us."
Lennie broke in. "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." He laughed delightedly. "Go on now, George!" (1.115-116)
These guys aren't dancing improbably around a poolside (or swashbuckling around France), but it still sounds a lot like "All for One." Lennie may not be quite holding up his end of the bargain, but he still understands that friendship means sticking together.