Study Guide

Of Mice and Men Justice

By John Steinbeck


Chapter 1
George Milton

"Lennie—if you jus' happen to get in trouble like you always done before, I want you to come right here an' hide in the brush… Hide in the brush till I come for you." (1.130)

We're starting to suspect that George doesn't have much sense of justice. He knows that Lennie doesn't mean any harm, but the fact is that he does harm: he kills mice; he terrifies women; and he's going to end up killing someone. We have to say it: maybe George shouldn't be protecting Lennie.

"O.K.," said George. "An' you ain't gonna do no bad things like you done in Weed, neither."

Lennie looked puzzled. "Like I done in Weed?"

"Oh, so ya forgot that too, did ya? Well, I ain't gonna remind ya, fear ya do it again."

A light of understanding broke on Lennie's face.

"They run us outa Weed," he exploded triumphantly.

"Run us out, hell," said George disgustedly. "We run. They was lookin' for us, but they didn't catch us."

Lennie giggled happily. "I didn't forget that, you bet." (1.50-55)

Lennie obviously has no concept of consequences, since he can't even remember the wrong that he did. So we have to ask: it just for George to keep dragging Lennie around with him? Or should George have taken action before Lennie ended up killing someone?

[George] heard Lennie's whimpering cry and wheeled about. "Blubberin' like a baby! Jesus Christ! A big guy like you!" Lennie's lip quivered and tears started in his eyes. "Aw, Lennie!" George put his hand on Lennie's shoulder. "I ain't takin' it away jus' for meanness. That mouse ain't fresh, Lennie; and besides, you've broke it pettin' it. You get another mouse that's fresh and I'll let you keep it a little while." (1.76)

George is just trying to be nice to Lennie by offering him another mouse—but what kind of justice is offering up innocent mice as sacrificial petting victims?

Chapter 2

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.


"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.

George Milton

"Don't let him pull you in—but—if the son-of-a-b**** socks you—let 'im have it." (2.131)

The 9th rule of Ranch Fight Club is that, if someone challenges you, you must fight.

Chapter 3

"I ought to of shot that dog myself, George. I shouldn't ought to of let no stranger shoot my dog." (3.234)

In the (paraphrased) words of George R. R. Martin, you'd better not condemn someone to death unless you're willing to carry out the execution. It's not very manly, and it's not very just.


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

"Hell 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)

And here's the question: does it matter? To be truly just, do we have to take intention into consideration—or is it the action that counts? Deep thoughts, Mr. Steinbeck.

George Milton

George said, "Slim, will we get canned now? We need the stake. Will Curley's old man can us now?"

Slim smiled wryly. He knelt down beside Curley. "You got your senses in hand enough to listen?" he asked. Curley nodded. "Well then listen," Slim went on. "I think you got your han' caught in a machine. If you don't tell nobody what happened, we ain't going to. But you jus' tell an' try to get this guy canned and we'll tell ever'body, an' then will you get the laugh. (3.259-260)

Slim is the ranch's judge, jury, and jailor: he assess the situation, decides who needs to be punished, and then carries out that punishment. It works okay if a guy like Slim is in charge, but what happens if a guy like Curley managed to gain control? Or is Steinbeck saying that only a man like Slim could earn the necessary respect?

Chapter 5

Slim sighed. "Well, I guess we got to get him…" (5.93)

Crushing a man's hand under extreme provocation is one thing; killing a woman is another. Even Slim admits that Lennie has to be brought to some sort of justice—but not the justice that Curley wants, because that's no justice at all.

Chapter 6

Slim came directly to George and sat down beside him, sat very close to him. "Never you mind," said Slim. "A guy got to sometimes." (6.96)

Tack on another role for Slim: priest. He's essentially absolving George of the sin of murder here, saying that it was the right—i.e., the just—thing to do.