Study Guide

Of Mice and Men Weakness

By John Steinbeck

Weakness

Chapter 1
George Milton

[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)

Words like "whimpering" and "blubbering" aren't very dignified: Lennie isn't weeping like a man; he's whining like a baby. Is this weakness sympathetic—or just pathetic?

Lennie Small

[Lennie] said gently, "George… I ain’t got mine. I musta lost it." He looked down at the ground in despair.

"You never had none, you crazy bastard. I got both of ‘em here. Think I’d let you carry your own work card?"

Lennie grinned with relief. (1.22-24)

George looks out for Lennie, so Lennie is definitely stronger with George around. But is the same true for George? Or does Lennie just bring him down?

Chapter 2

"Whyn't you get Candy to shoot his old dog and give him one of the pups to raise up? I can smell that dog a mile away. Got no teeth, damn near blind, can't eat. Candy feeds him milk. He can't chew nothing else." (2.193)

Carlson is awfully quick to suggest shooting Candy's dog. We wonder if Carlson will be so enthusiastic about being shot when he's the one with no teeth and no eyesight? (Actually, given the way life is on the ranch, he just might be.)

The swamper considered… "Well . . . tell you what. Curley’s like a lot of little guys. He hates big guys. He’s alla time picking scraps with big guys. Kind of like he’s mad at ‘em because he ain’t a big guy. You seen little guys like that, ain’t you? Always scrappy?" (2.91)

And here we are: Curley, who's makes his weakness into a strength. He's not "strong as a bull" like Lennie, but he's "scrappy." And in a match between slow, brute strength and scrappy wiliness, our money's on the wily one.

George Milton

The boss pointed a playful finger at Lennie. "He ain't much of a talker, is he?"

"No, he ain't, but he's sure a hell of a good worker. Strong as a bull."

Lennie smiled to himself. "Strong as a bull," he repeated.

George scowled at him, and Lennie dropped his head in shame at having forgotten. (2.35-38)

Lennie is all brawn, and no brains—which, in Of Mice and Men, is a pretty dangerous combination. Of course, the opposite is true, too. You can't say that Curley is all brains, but he's definitely smarter than a lot of the ranchhands—smarter and smaller. Either way, you're out of luck. (Unless you're Slim.)

Chapter 3
Candy

Candy looked a long time at Slim to try to find some reversal. And Slim gave him none. At last Candy said softly and hopelessly, "Awright—take 'im." He did not look down at the dog at all. He lay back on his bunk and crossed his arms behind his head and stared at the ceiling. (3.85)

Poor Candy. We wish we could respect Candy a little more, because he seems like a genuinely nice guy who's had a bad life. But he's so weak that he can't even manage to shoot his own dog—not very manly.

[Candy] said miserably, "You seen what they done to my dog tonight? They says he wasn’t no good to himself nor nobody else. When they can me here I wisht somebody’d shoot me. But they won’t do nothing like that. I won’t have no place to go, an’ I can’t get no more jobs." (3.222)

We're pretty sure (99.9%) that Steinbeck isn't recommending the euthanization of old ranchhands, but this is a problem: if your entire career is based on bodily strength, what happens when you get old and can't work anymore?

Carlson laughed. "You God damn punk," he said. You tried to throw a scare into Slim, an' you couldn't make it stick. Slim throwed a scare inta you. You're yella as a frog belly. I don't care if you're the best welter in the country. You come for me, an' I'll kick your God damn head off."

Candy joined the attack with joy, "Glove fulla vaseline," he said disgustedly. Curley flared at him. His eyes slipped on past and lighted on Lennie; and Lennie was still smiling with delight at the memory of the ranch. (3.241-242)

Live by the fist, get beat up by the fist: as soon as Curley slips up, the men are on him: he might be a fighter, but they all recognize him for the coward that he is. It turns out that picking on people who can't retaliate doesn't exactly make you look strong.

Chapter 4
Curley's wife

"They left all the weak ones here," she said finally. (4.92)

Pot, meet kettle: Curley's wife is calling Crooks, Lennie, and Candy weak because they didn't go off to the whorehouse with the rest of the men… but here she is, too. She's weak just by default—and all the ostrich-feather heels and pretty dresses she can wear doesn't make her powerful.

Crooks

"This is just a n***** talkin', an' a busted-back n*****. So it don't mean nothing, see?" (4.39)

The weak do have one privilege: no one pays attention to what they say. It's not much, but you have to take what you can get.

Chapter 6

She stood in front of Lennie and put her hands on her hips, and she frowned disapprovingly at him.

And when she spoke, it was in Lennie’s voice. "I tol’ you an tol’ you," she said. "I tol you, ‘Min’ George because he’s such a nice fella an’ good to you.’ But you don’t never take no care. You do bad things." (6.10)

Lennie’s hallucinations seem to fully reflect Lennie’s real weaknesses and fears. Aunt Clara talks about how Lennie would never run away because he’s dependent on George. The big scary rabbit preys on Lennie's fear Crooks brought up -- that George might outgrow Lennie and leave him. It makes the audience wonder whether Lennie has, stored away in his consciousness, knowledge of what he’s done wrong and deeper knowledge of himself. Perhaps he just lacked the good sense to access it, and now that he has, something irreparable has happened. Lennie as we know him – slow, but mostly sane – might have lost some of his sanity after he killed Curley’s wife. Of course, there is no way to know for sure.