Study Guide

Of Mice and Men Innocence

By John Steinbeck


Chapter 1
Lennie Small

"Tha's good," he said. "You drink some, George. You take a good big drink." He smiled happily. (1.7)

George has just reamed Lennie out for drinking too fast, but Lennie is so innocent that he doesn't even get mad. He just smiles "happily" when George takes a drink. From this perspective, innocence doesn't look too bad.

George looked sharply at him. "What'd you take outa that pocket?"

"Ain't a thing in my pocket," Lennie said cleverly.

"I know there ain't. You got it in your hand…" (1.25-27)

We hope you had a good chuckle, because Lennie isn't actually being "clever" at all. He's like a toddler playing hide and seek who puts a bowl over his head: if he can't see you, you can't see him. Precious moments, right?

Chapter 2

NARRATION. And these shelves were loaded with little articles, soap and talcum powder, razors and those Western magazines ranch men love to read and scoff at and secretly believe. (2.1)

These magazines are like Maxim or GQ: they present an idealized version of masculinity that only an idiot—or an innocent—would take literally. So, are all these hardboiled ranchhands really innocent, in some way?

Lennie Small

Lennie cried out suddenly—"I don' like this place, George. This ain't no good place. I wanna get outa here." (2.165)

Out of the mouth of babes: Lennie may not be book-smart (we're not even sure he can read, come to think of it), but he has a kind of gut-instinct that makes him sensitive to bad vibes on the ranch. Too bad George, who's a relative genius compared to Lennie, doesn't listen.

Chapter 3

Slim had not moved. His calm eyes followed Lennie out of the door. "Jesus," he said. "He's jes' like a kid, ain't he."

"Sure, he's jes like a kid. There ain't no more harm in him than a kid neither, except he's so strong." (3.44-45)

Uh, we don't know what middle school Slim and George went to, but where we're from, kids can be plenty mean—and mean plenty of harm.

Slim sat in silence for a moment. "Didn't hurt the girl none, huh?" he asked finally.

"Hello no. He just scared her. I'd be scared too, if he grabbed me. But he never hurt her. He jus' wanted to touch that red dress, like he wants to pet them pups all the time."

"He ain't mean," said Slim. "I can tell a mean guy from a mile off." (3.28-30)

Slim is our Wise Old Master, so if he says Lennie isn't "mean," then it must be true. He's just dumb. (Fun etymology Brain Snack: "in-nocent" essentially means "free of harm," since "nocere" means "to harm" in Latin. The more you know!)

Chapter 4

The stable buck went on dreamily, "I remember when I was little kid on my old man's chicken ranch. Had two brothers. They was always near me, always there. Used to sleep right in the same room, right in the same bed—all three. Had a strawberry patch. Had an alfalfa patch. Used to turn the chickens out in the alfalfa on a sunny morning. My brothers'd set on a fence rail an' watch 'em—white chickens they was." (4.58)

Talk about an innocent childhood. Crooks' memories involve tumbling around with his brothers, tending strawberries, and watching chickens. What, no Call of Duty?

Chapter 5

And when they were gone, Candy squatted down in the hay and watched the face of Curley's wife. "Poor bastard," he said softly. (5.112)

Not "poor girl," but "poor bastard." We get the feeling that Candy knows who the real victim is here: not Curley's wife, who he thinks brought it on herself, but poor, dumb, innocent Lennie.

Lennie Small

Lennie went back and looked at the dead girl. The puppy lay close to her. Lennie picked it up. "I'll throw him away," he said. "It's bad enough like it is." (5.59)

Lennie knows he's done a "bad" thing, but he's so innocent that he somehow thinks throwing away the puppy is going to make it look better. Well, fair enough. It is always worse when the dog dies.