Friendship in Of Mice and Men

The relationship between Lennie and George Of Mice and Men is a novella written by Nobel Prize-winning author John Steinbeck. Published in 1937, it tells the tragic story of George Milton and Lennie Small, two displaced migrant ranch workers during the Great Depression in California. Based on Steinbeck’s own experiences in the 1920s, the title is taken from Robert Burns’s poem, To a Mouse, which read: “The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men /Gang aft agley.” As the novella is revolved around the two characters, one of the things that stand out the most is the relationship both the characters share with each other and how it appears to be of a strong bond, even with the obstacles that gets thrown their way. Their connection is of many different kinds and I shall list in detail a few of the many types.

As Steinbeck originally wrote the story as a play, there are lots of adverbs that help us to imagine how the characters act and react, which helps to establish their relationship in the opening chapter. We can imagine that many of these adverbs were originally written as speech directions. For example, after shouting at Lennie, the author describes how George reacts ‘ashamedly’. This shows his sense of guilt for becoming angry with Lennie as he knows his friend does not truly understand. George is keen to protect Lennie and feels ashamed when he is the one putting him in a state of fear or anxiety. George also recounts the dream ‘rhythmically’ which shows that he always has to reassure Lennie by repeating the dream over and over. It almost sounds like a lullaby, suggesting a paternal relationship between George and Lennie. Generally, Lennie reacts ‘slowly and cautiously’. This suggests that he is careful not to upset George and realises that what he says can sometimes cause George to react negatively to him. Interestingly, at one point Lennie behaves ‘craftily’. Steinbeck does not want us to see Lennie as someone without understanding; Lennie is capable of simple manipulation strategies. Overall, the adverbs are evocative and chosen wisely to show the complexity of the relationship.

Loneliness is a major theme in the novel ‘Of Mice and Men’ and Steinbeck uses that to portray the two main character’s relationship and the effect it has on them. “Guys like us, that work on ranches, are the loneliest guys in the world. They got no family. They don’t belong no place. . . . With us it ain’t like that. We got a future. We got somebody to talk to that gives a damn about us.” This quote goes along with a few of the book’s themes: loneliness, friendship and the American dream. Essentially, George is explaining to Lennie that as long as they stick together, nothing can touch them. No matter what happens in their separate lives, they still have each other’s backs. George says that they have a future, this plays on the idea that George’s American dream of having the little plot of land is alive and achievable as long as he has Lennie. The reader sees this kind of friendship throughout the whole book. There were many opportunities when George could have, and probably should have, ditched Lennie because of the trouble he got into. But they remained together, right until the end.

Steinbeck portrays George as someone who is very protective of his companion and assumes responsibility over Lennie, much like a parent. “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.” This quote shows how George knows Lennie will cause trouble at the ranch even though they’re not there yet. He even says it’s a foregone conclusion, as it’s what Lennie has always done before. It also shows us George’s justice with Lennie, for example George is prepared to meet Lennie in the brush and seemingly run away again, regardless of the amount of trouble Lennie has caused. George seems to think that together, they can keep avoiding the trouble Lennie gets into, rather than stay and wait for justice to be served. Knowing what happens at the end of the book, George’s statement here makes us speculate whether his views on justice changed over the course of the book.

Chapter 2 shows a developing relationship between George and Lennie, regardless of their differences in mentality. Immediately from the beginning it becomes evident that George is the dominant member of their relationship, and Lennie is his inferior. “Behind him came George, and behind George, Lennie.”Steinbeck uses this sentence to highlight how obedient Lennie is to George, and how he walked behind him, not only as an inferior, but almost like a pet; which shows that Lennie is dependent on George to know what to do. The word “behind” is used twice to show the status of the characters, George was behind someone already but instead of Lennie standing beside him he was behind him, showing that Lennie was already of a lower status once they had arrived. This may also show that George seems to be protecting George which suggests Lennie is quite weak mentally.

In chapter 3 we get a better understanding of Lennie’s mentality, how they came to be together and what their relationship used to be like in comparison to how it is now. For example, we learn that George used to play tricks on Lennie and take advantage of his backward behaviour, but then George talks about a certain event that changes his behaviour towards his large friend.

‘”Tell you what made me stop that. One day a bunch of guys was standin’ around up on the Sacramento River. I was feelin’ pretty smart. I turns to Lennie and says, ‘jump in.’ An’ he jumps. Couldn’t swim a stroke. He damn near drowned before we could get him. An’ he was so damn nice to me for pullin’ him out. Clean forgot I told him to jump in. Well, I ain’t done anything like that no more”.’ This quote quite clearly shows how George used to take advantage of the fact that Lennie was not all there and not as smart as other people. However, it also shows something deeper as here we see that George is actually caring for Lennie and feels bad for doing something like this to his friend. It could show that George feels somewhat protective over Lennie, almost like an elder brother would to their younger sibling. The whole way in which George is playing around with Lennie and making fun of him helps to implement the idea that they are like brothers as it seems very much like something brothers would do.

In this chapter George is once again getting Lennie to protect himself; he is also taking on a fatherly figure towards Lennie as he is instructing him what to do. ‘George was on his feet yelling, “Get him, Lennie. Don’t let him do it.” Lennie covered his face with his huge paws and bleated with terror. He cried, “Make ‘um stop, George.”‘ The individual word ‘bleated’ clearly describes Lennie’s manner in portraying himself to be scared. The word emphasises that Lennie is distressed in both being terrified of the opponent and confused with George’s instructions. The animalistic qualities that is used to describe Lennie is shown in ‘huge paws’, where it once again makes the reader understand the powerful build Lennie is, and also the vulnerability that he possesses with him being simple minded. The emotions Steinbeck creates with George portrays that he is protective of his friend, yet trying to make Lennie stand up for himself to prevent others from picking on him in the future however we can also decipher that George is willing to step in at any point from the phrase ‘was on his feet, yelling’.

Loneliness is an important theme as it emphasizes on the characters emotions directed at each other and themselves. “S’pose you didn’t have nobody…A guy needs somebody to be near him. A guy goes nuts if he ain’t got nobody” Crooks explains to Lennie the effects of loneliness. This passage highlights how society feels about a grown man relying on another grown man “S’pose” is colloquial and realistic for a character on a ranch especially someone who is segregated. He describes the importance of friendship; he is secretively pointing out his good luck of having George is his life whereas Crooks doesn’t have anyone to suffer with which could be why he’s cynical.

Chapter 5 shows Lennie as a character who is constantly worrying for George’s opinion even in the worst situations. Page 90. This quote describes Lennie in his state of violence, for example he is using manners whilst killing Curley’s wife which shows he means no harm to others and his actions is un-intentional. “George’ll be mad” shows George had chastised Lennie so much that he let George’s disciplinary actions overtake his judgements which caused her death. This makes the reader feel sympathetic for Lennie because he is the most exuberant character in the novella.

Steinbeck has used the American Dream throughout the novella in as a way of keeping their future alive, as well as giving them hope and comfort. Pg 104. The ellipses show tremor and hesitation George is experiencing before he kills his friend, but as well as that it describes the tension George is feeling. The dream is used to put him in a state of ease due to what just happened. Throughout the duration of Of Mice and Men, many versions of the American dream demonstrated motivational objectives for the characters. Lennie longed for peace and safety. George wished to have a leisurely life and Crooks hoped for a world where he was not discriminated against. Throughout the novel, these dreams were changed and sometimes even forgotten. Because of this, Steinbeck gives the impression that the American dream can never truly be fulfilled to the dreamer’s original standards.

Throughout the novella George has always shown trust and protectiveness when it comes to Lennie and always reassures him when he has done a guilty act. Pg 104. George doesn’t kill Lennie out of anger, but he doesn’t seem to do it out of justice, either. It seems that George has no choice but to kill Lennie. The same way George has protected and guided Lennie throughout life, he now leads him into death. George is confined by choice, and Lennie is freed by death. It makes the reader feel kind-hearted towards George as this is the first time we have really seen him do a good deed towards Lennie that doesn’t have an advantage to himself.

In the tragic world of the novella ‘Of mice and men’ Steinbeck portrays the relationship between the protagonist known as George Milton and the foil also known as Lennie Small. H explored the ways in which society during the Great Depression not only had an effect in the economy but also the relationships people are in and who with. He described how the effects of people’s emotions cloud their judgement and the consequences they have to make.

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