Study Guide

Of Mice and Men Violence

By John Steinbeck

Violence

Chapter 1
Lennie Small

Lennie looked sadly up at him. "They was so little," he said apologetically. "I’d pet ‘em, and pretty soon they bit my fingers and I pinched their heads a little and then they was dead—because they was so little. I wish’t we’d get the rabbits pretty soon, George. They ain’t so little." (1.79)

Hm. On a second look, it doesn't seem like these mice deaths are so accidental after all. They take place when Lennie retaliates against them by pinching their heads. He might not mean to kill them, but he definitely means to hurt them.

"Where we goin', George?"

The little man jerked down the brim of his hat and scowled over at Lennie. "So you forgot that awready, did you? I gotta tell you again, do I? Jesus Christ, you're a crazy bastard!"

"I forgot," Lennie said softly. (1.14-16)

Simmer down, George. Almost as soon as we meet him, George is stomping around the novel flinging verbal abuse as Lennie. Does Lennie acknowledge this as a kind of violence, or is he generally unaffected by it?

George Milton

Lennie hesitated, backed away, looked wildly at the brush line as though he contemplated running for his freedom. George said coldly, "You gonna give me that mouse or do I have to sock you?" (1.70)

Not much TLC here. But does Lennie respond to reason and coaxing? Or is violence the only way George can get a response out of him?

Chapter 2
Lennie Small

"I wasn't kicked in the head with no horse, was I, George?"

"Be a damn good thing if you was," George said viciously. "Save ever'body a hell of a lot of trouble." (2.61-62)

It's a good think Lennie isn't actually George's kid, because we're pretty sure that Child Protective Services would have to get involved. Lennie's an adult—but does that make it okay? Or does his mental disability make him so childlike that George might as well be abusing a kid?

Curley

"I’ll try to catch him," said Curley. His eyes passed over the new men and he stopped. He glanced coldly at George and then at Lennie. His arms gradually bent at the elbows and his hands closed into fists. He stiffened and went into a slight crouch. His glance was at once calculating and pugnacious. Lennie squirmed under the look and shifted his feet nervously. Curley stepped gingerly close to him. "You the new guys the old man was waitin’ for?" (2.74)

We get the feeling that, for Curley, challenging the new guys to a fight is almost like friending them on Facebook: it's just what he does when he meets new people. To be fair, he was a professional boxer; it's probably hard to let go of old habits. Especially violent ones.

Chapter 3
Lennie Small

Lennie smiled with this bruised mouth. "I didn't want no trouble," he said. He walked toward the door, but just before he came to it, he turned back. "George?"

"What you want?"

"I can still tend the rabbits, George?"

"Sure. You ain't done nothing wrong."

"I di'n't mean no harm, George." (3.268-272)

Um, okay. Lennie may have meant no harm, but he still has a tendency to kill the animals in his care. So, maybe "doing no harm" isn't the best criteria for putting a man in charge of a warren full of rabbits.

A shot sounded in the distance. The men looked quickly at the old man. Every head turned toward him.

For a moment he continued to stare at the ceiling. Then he rolled slowly over and faced the wall and lay silent. (3.103)

Setting aside the fact that Candy really should have killed his own dog, is this a truly violent act? Or is it an act of mercy? Or—stay with us—can an act be violent and still merciful?

Chapter 4
Curley's wife

"Well, you keep your place then, N*****. I could get you strung up on a tree so easy it ain't even funny."

Crooks had reduced himself to nothing. There was no personality, no ego—nothing to arouse either like or dislike. He said, "Yes, ma'am," and his voice was toneless. (4.120-121)

Notice that Curley's wife doesn't threaten to lynch Crooks; she threatens to "get" him lynched. She has to do all her violence by proxy—and in the world of this novel, that makes her weak and despicable.

Chapter 5
Lennie Small

"He was so little," said Lennie. "I was jus playin’ with him… an’ he made like he’s gonna bite me… an’ I made like I was gonna smack him … an’… an’ I done it. An’ then he was dead. She consoled him. "Don’t you worry none. He was jus’ a mutt. You can get another one easy. The whole country is fulla mutts." (5.25-26)

Tell us one more time that Lennie's peaceful and harmless? Here he is again retaliating against an animal maybe 1/32nd of his size.

"You said I was your cousin, George."

"Well, that was a lie. An' I'm damn glad it was. If I was a relative of yours I'd shoot myself." (2.63-64)

Way to be melodramatic, George. At least he's not actually threatening Lennie, this time. We guess.