Study Guide

Of Mice and Men Isolation

By John Steinbeck

Isolation

Chapter 1
Lennie Small

"If you don' want me I can g off in the hills an' find a cave. I can go away any time."

"No—look! I was jus' foolin', Lennie. 'Cause I want you to stay with me." (1.103-104)

Poor Lennie almost literally offers to go jump in a lake if George doesn't want him anymore, but George doesn't really want the chance to stay in a whorehouse for as long as he wants. Hanging out with Lennie is better than a gallon of whisky any night.

George Milton

"Well, we ain't got any," George exploded. "Whatever we ain't got, that's what you want. God a'mighty, if I was alone I could live so easy. I could go get a job an' work, an' no trouble. No mess at all, and when the end of the month come I could take my fifty bucks and go into town and get whatever I want. Why, I could stay in a cathouse all night. I could eat any place I want, hotel or any place, and order any damn thing I could think of. An' I could do all that every damn month. Get a gallon of whisky, or set in a pool room and play cards or shoot pool." Lennie knelt and looked over the fire at the angry George. And Lennie's face was drawn in with terror. "An' whatta I got," George went on furiously. "I got you! You can't keep a job and you lose me ever' job I get. Jus' keep me shovin' all over the country all the time." (1.89)

During this little temper tantrum George basically says that he wishes he were alone so he could go to as many whorehouses as he wanted. You know, just like we sometimes wished we lived alone so we could eat chocolate cake at 2AM without anyone judging us.

Chapter 2
Slim

Slim looked through George and beyond him. "Ain't many guys travel around together," he mused. "I don't know why. Maybe ever'body in the whole damn world is scared of each other." (2.179)

If being together is so great, you'd think that more guys would team up. (Also, you always die if you go off alone.) But they don't. Is it more dangerous to be together? In this world, it just might be.

Candy

"A guy on a ranch don't never listen nor he don't ast no questions." (2.67)

Candy gives us a pretty good definition of an isolated person: someone who doesn't ask questions and someone who doesn't listen—in other words, not much of a conversationalist. We're getting the feeling that, for Steinbeck, isolation is mostly about silences… which makes friendship mostly about conversation.

Chapter 3
Candy

George half-closed his eyes. "I gotta think about that. We was always gonna do it by ourselves." Candy interrupted him, "I'd make a will an' leave my share to you guys in case I kick off, 'cause I ain't got no relatives or nothing…" (3.218-219)

Candy is so isolated that he doesn't even have relatives to leave his money to. Well, he could always leave it to a deserving charity.

George Milton

"I seen the guys that go around on the ranches alone. That ain't no good. They don't have no fun. After a long time they get mean. They get wantin' to fight all the time." (3.17)

Like Tyler Durden, these ranch loners have been alone for so long that they're desperate to make any connection—even a violent one. The first rule of Ranch Fight Club is don't talk about Ranch Fight Club.

Lennie Small

"I don't want no fights," said Lennie. He got up from his bunk and sat down at the table, across from George. Almost automatically George shuffled the cards and laid out his solitaire hand. He used a deliberate, thoughtful, slowness. (3.177)

Lennie avoids fighting by showing off his connection with George, and what does George do? Play solitaire. Is this showing us that Lennie and George don't really have a true connection—or is it evidence that you don't always need to be talking to be together?

Chapter 4
Crooks

Lennie smiled helplessly in an attempt to make friends.

Crooks said sharply, "You got no right to come in my room. This here's my room. Nobody got any right in here but me." (4.7-8)

It's hard to pick the most pathetic character in Of Mice and Men, but Crooks comes close. Isolated because of his skin color, he's been alone for so long he doesn't even want to make a friend.

"I was born right here in Southern California. My old man had a chicken ranch, ‘bout ten acres. The white kids come to play at our place, an’ sometimes I went to play with them, and some of them was pretty nice. My ‘ol man didn’t like that. I never knew till long later why he didn’t like that. But I know now." He hesitated, and when he spoke again his voice was softer. "There wasn’t another colored family for miles around. And now there ain’t a colored man on this ranch an’ there’s jus’ one family in Soledad." (4.37)

At least Crooks has an excuse to be isolated: he's black, which makes him an automatic outcast. Even if he wanted to reach out and touch someone, he wouldn't be able to. You'd think that things like skin color would matter less on a ranch in the middle of nowhere—but somehow they seem to matter more.

"I said what stake you got in this guy? You takin' his pay away from him?"

"No, 'course I ain't. Why you think I'm sellin' him out?"

"Well, I never seen one guy take so much trouble for another guy. I just like to know what your interest is." (2.45-47)

The Boss is so confused by George and Lennie's relationship that he can't stop trying to figure out what the angle is. For some reason it doesn't occur to him that George just might not want to be alone.