Study Guide

Of Mice and Men Women and Femininity

By John Steinbeck

Women and Femininity

Chapter 1
George Milton

"God, you're a lot of trouble," said George. "I could get along so easy and so nice if I didn't have you on my tail. I could live so easy and maybe have a girl."

For a moment Lennie lay quiet, and then he said hopefully, "We gonna work on a ranch, George." (1.56-57)

Uh-huh. Somehow we doubt that a girl would be much inclined to wander from ranch to ranch while George looks for steady work.

Chapter 2
George Milton

"Seems like Curley is cockier'n ever since he got married."

George grunted. "Maybe he's showin' off for his wife." (2.97-98)

You'd think that Curley would be able to stop showing off now that he's married—but instead it seems worse than ever. Is there no such thing as "settling down" with a woman? Or is it just this woman?


"Well—she got the eye."

"Yeah? Married two weeks and got the eye? Maybe that's why Curley's pants is full of ants." (2.109-110)

You know—the eye for love. You'd think that'd be a good thing in a new wife, but it's not. It just makes Curley a jealous wreck.

"Well, that glove's fulla Vaseline."

"Vaseline? What the hell for?"

"Well, I will tell ya what—Curley says he's keepin' that hand soft for his wife." (2.99-101)

George and Candy snicker about Curley's vanity, but it raises an important question: what do women want? Well, if they're middle-class women in a technologically developed country like America, where the guys all work in offices with fifteen blue shirts and womanly hands, they want a man with rough, worker's hands. But if they're working-class women in the Great Depression surrounded by rough ranchhands (according to Steinbeck), they want their man to have baby-soft hands.


Lennie's eyes moved down over her body, and though she didn't seem to be looking at Lennie she bridled a little. She looked at her fingers. "Sometimes Curley's in here," she explained. George said brusquely, "Well he ain't now."

"If he ain't, I guess I better look someplace else," she said playfully.

Lennie watched her, fascinated. George said, "If I see him, I'll pass the word you was looking for him."

She smiled archly and twitched her body. "Nobody can't blame a person for lookin'," she said. There were footsteps behind her, going by. She turned her head. "Hi, Slim," she said. (2.145-150)

"Bridled," "arch," and "twitch": is it just us, or is Curley's wife sounding a lot like a cat rubbing against a pole right now? Given the way Lennie's looking at her, that's … not good news.

Chapter 3

"Yeah," said Whit. "We don't never go there. Clara gets three bucks a crack and thirty-five cents a shot, and she don't crack no jokes. But Susy's place is clean and she got nice chairs." (3.144)

Because if there's one thing you want in a whorehouse, it's nice chairs.

George Milton

George sighed. "You give me a good whore house every time," he said. "A guy can go in an' get drunk and get ever'thing outa his system all at once, an' no messes. And he knows how much it's gonna set him back. These here jail baits is just set on the trigger of the hoosegow." (3.185)

George—like all the guys—sees women as basically exchangeable objects that satisfy certain needs in exchange for money. And he likes whorehouses, because you know there's not going to be any bait-and-switch. Awesome, George. No wonder you can't find a nice girl to settle down with.

George said, "She’s gonna make a mess. They’s gonna be a bad mess about her. She’s a jail bait all set on the trigger. That Curley got his work cut out for him. Ranch with a bunch of guys on it ain’t no place for a girl, specially like her." (3.135)

Is it true that ranches are no place for women? As George earlier compared stability to having "a girl" and presumably raising a family, it seems that if women can’t be part of ranch life, ranch life can’t really ever be stable and happy. Thinking on this leads us to wonder whether there’s no notion of a loving, down-to-earth, farm-wife type of gal that could make these men happy. Are all women trouble, as far as the ranch men see them?

Chapter 4

Candy's face had grown redder and redder, but before she was done speaking, he had control of himself. He was the master of the situation. "I might of knew," he said gently. "Maybe you just better go along an' roll your hoop. We ain't got nothing to say to you at all. We know what we got, and we don't care whether you know it or not." (4.105)

Okay, we kind of feel like cheering here. Candy might not have been strong enough to shoot his dog, but he's definitely strong enough to deal with Curley's wife. In the end, she's just a woman—and he's a man. (On second thought, maybe hold the cheers.)

"Oh!" She put her hands behind her back and leaned against the door frame so that her body was thrown forward. "You're the new fellas that just come, ain't ya?" (2.145)

The ranchhands may be reading Western magazines, but we think Curley's wife may have been reading some magazines of her own—you know, the kind that tell you to move in certain ways to men notice her. That, or being a woman gives her special insight into these things.