In 1929, the American stock market collapsed, thousands across the country were impoverished. The United States entered a prolonged period of economic depression. A series of droughts and failed crops leaves thousands more in poverty. President Roosevelt, the then president, created new scheme; workers are given work cards to help with employment. George and Lennie, the two main characters, are migrant workers on the card scheme. The theme of loneliness is very important in this novella.
The life of a migrant worker was very lonely, the workers travelled the country, finding part time jobs, with the aid of the cards. When the job was finished, or the workers were laid off, they moved on, seeking new employment.
When we first encounter George and Lennie, we begin to see a very special, but stereotypical relationship:
They had walked in s ingle file down the path, and even in the open one stayed behind the other.
As we later learn, George is the first man, the man in front, and Lennie is the man behind. This becomes much more relevant later on. George is the front man because he is leading Lennie though, more importantly, Lennie is following George. This demonstrates that George is the dominant person in the relationship.
This may seem peculiar to the reader when Steinbeck begins to describe the pair. George is shown to be intelligent but not excessively strong or well built.
The first man was small and quick, dark of face, with restless eye and sharp strong features. Every part of him was defined: small, strong hands, slender arms, a thin and bony nose.
Whereas Lennie is described very differently:
Behind him walked his complete opposite, a huge man, shapeless of face, with large, pale eyes, with wide sloping shoulders; and he walked heavily, dragging his feet a little, the way a bear drags his paws. His arms did not swing at his sides, but hung loosely and only moved because the heavy hands were pendula.
The two descriptions are very different; Steinbeck even goes, as far to say they are complete opposites. This why the relationship is very special. George is shown to be the more intelligent of the two, and Lennie is very obviously shown to be the strongest. This is a very stereotypical relationship, a brains and brawn relationship, George provides the brains and Lennie provides the brawn.
The rest of the migrant workers are shown to be very lonely:
Guys like us, that work on ranches, are the loneliest guys in the world. They got no family. They don’t belong no place. They come to a ranch an’ work up a stake and then they go inta town and blow their stake, and the first thing you know they’r poundin’ their tail on some other ranch. They ain’t got nothing to look ahead to
George is explaining to Lennie how migrant workers can get very lonely if they don’t have company. They will go to ranch, earn some money, but because of his solitude, he will go into the nearest town and spend it all on alcohol and prostitutes.
By exaggerating the point of how everyone else is lonely, Stein beck emphasizes how special George and Lennie’s relationship is.
George and Lennie are different from the rest of the ranchers.
With us it ain’t like that. We got a future. We got somebody to talk to that gives a damn about us. We don’t have to sit in no bar-room blowin’ in our jack jus’ because we got no place to go. If them other guys gets in jail they can rot for all anybody gives a damn. But not us.
George tells Lennie that they are different from everybody else, they are special; they have each other to rely upon, to talk to, and just to keep company. Without each other they would be like everyone else
Although George tells Lennie that they are special because they have each other, we, looking on the story know that George could possibly have a better life, or at least a better standard of life. George also knows this.
When I think of the swell time I could have without you, I go nuts. I never get no peace.
Although George would probably have a more enjoyable lifestyle without Lennie, he stays with him. He feels responsible for him. He promised his Aunt Clara that he would look after him and he is a man of his word.
George is more than just a friend to Lennie; he looks out for him like a parent. This is because Lennie has the mind of a child:
Lennie dabbled his big paw in the water and wiggled his fingers so the water arose in little splashes; rings widened across the pool to the other side and came back again. Lennie watched them go. ‘Look. George. Look what I done.’
When Lennie was young, he was kicked in the head by a horse. This left him mentally handicapped. He still has the mind of a child. He has a poor memory and hasn’t yet learnt about the danger of the world. George looks after Lennie, he cares for Lennie like he was his own child. A few beans slipped out the side of Lennie’s mouth. George gestured with his spoon.
Lennie looks up to George as a sort of role model:
Lennie, who had been watching, imitated George exactly.
Lennie didn’t have a father and his mum died long ago, though George has always been with him. He has learned to copy George; he looks up to George because he is cleverer than he is. Lennie doesn’t know much himself and doesn’t really know what is going on most of the time, but George is always there to tell him what to do.
Loneliness is a disease. It slowly eats away at people, gradually tearing them limb from limb. It is a virus that sends some people insane, some turn senile, it sorts the strong characters from the weak and it can devastate lives. In Mice and Men, George is forced to kill Lennie. Lennie accidentally killed Curley’s wife, and instinctively ran to the brush, which George had told him to do. George finds him there, he knows that people are coming after them, to kill Lennie, but he knows it is up to him to do it. He feels he owes Lennie a quick, painless death. George starts to talk about future plans with Lennie; this is to ensure that Lennie dies happily.
This leaves George all alone in the world though, his special relationship has ended. We do not know what is to become of George; we do not know whether he could have a better life without Lennie. In the end, George ends up as one of the lonely migrant workers, the very thing that he didn’t want to become.