“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” (Steinbeck, 15). As we follow Lennie and George on their journey towards what they consider to be the dream life, the audience comes to learn along with the characters that dreams are not all they’re cracked up to be and sometimes the most rewarding goal in life is one which has already been achieved. The two main characters in the book Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck are poor farm workers who hope to one day own their own farm and become self-sufficient. What they never realize is that the most important thing they can ever have is each other. Despite their periodic quarrels, Lennie and George share a connection comparable to that of brothers and a love so profound it ultimately costs Lennie his life, leaving George with the reality he never saw before: that were he not so caught up in a frivolous endgame, he would have seen that he had already found something worth living for in his large, clumsy companion.
George often has a hard time coping with Lennie and the problems his disability causes for the two of them regarding work and living situations. He tells Lennie, “You can’t keep a job and you lose me ever’ job I get. Jus’ keep me shovin’ all over the country all the time. An’ that ain’t the worst. You get in trouble. You do bad things and I got to get you out. You crazy son-of-a-bitch. You keep me in hot water all the time” (12). George rarely becomes as outwardly upset with Lennie as he is in this instance, but it’s clear in the way he talks to him throughout the book that he is easily frustrated with having to look after someone else all the time, especially someone who needs as much care as Lennie does. Lennie doesn’t seem to fully understand this, or otherwise doesn’t care much because he trusts George to stay with him whatever the trouble they come across. Lennie often settles arguments by insisting, “I didn’t mean no harm, George.” Though George is aggravated, he usually takes this apology to heart and forgives Lennie, making everything better.
At the time that this book is set, people didn’t know very much about mental handicaps or their effects. A common solution, then, for someone with a mental disability would be to put them in an asylum. This fact is what makes it so clear that George loves Lennie, even if he doesn’t always express it the way in the reader may think he should. When Lennie’s Aunt Clara dies, George makes a promise to her that he will take care of Lennie. However, because Aunt Clara is dead, George has no real obligation. Morally, he may feel guilty, but most characters in his situation would “take care of Lennie” by handing him off to a professional. Instead of taking this approach, George takes Lennie under his own personal care in order to honor his promise to Aunt Clara and keep a closer watch over him. This is where George’s almost familial love for Lennie first becomes apparent in the story line. Further along in the book, George’s feeling of obligation for taking care of Lennie progresses even more.
When Candy tells him, “I ought to of shot that dog myself, George. I shouldn’t ought to of let no stranger shoot my dog” (67), George understands that sometimes the best way to protect someone you love is by hurting them first before anyone else gets the chance to. This exchange between Candy and George is an example of foreshadowing to the end of the book, when George shoots Lennie to save him from the mob of angry workers. It seems to the reader as if George should be doing everything in his power to continue to hide Lennie from the people who want to hurt him, but he realizes that the thing which is hurting Lennie the most is Lennie himself.
Just like Candy’s dog, Lennie “ain’t got nothing left for him” (52) and the best way to protect him from all the bad things in the world is to take him straight out of it. Even after killing Lennie, George has this calm silence about him, a sign of respect and reverence for the man he has spent almost his whole life bonding with and looking after. Even if he never outwardly says it, George loves Lennie like his own family. The closest he ever comes to admitting this fact is right before he shoots Lennie and he consoles him by saying, “I ain’t mad. I never been mad, an’ I ain’t now. That’s a thing I want ya to know” (117). And despite his seeming ignorance toward the subject, it’s clear that Lennie understands George loves him as much as he has always loved George.
The tragedy in this ultimate display of brotherly love is that it comes too little too late. Instead of seeing the good he has in front of him all along, George doesn’t realize until the situation is out of his control just how lucky he was to have Lennie in his company. All he can really see in the future is his big dream of their own house with lots of farm land and animals to look after, living “off the fatta the lan’” with no worries or cares. This goal almost seems attainable when Candy mentions all the money he has saved up and George becomes blind-sided by the possibility of his dream coming true so much sooner than he had imagined. In this, he loses sight of what is really important to him, which is Lennie. He forgets how Lennie is and let’s go just long enough for Lennie to get himself into trouble for the very last time.
This time, Lennie has actually killed a woman and done something George can’t fix for him and every hope he’s ever had goes out the window with the loss of his best friend and pseudo-brother. “You hadda, George. I swear you hadda” (18). The irony and tragedy in this observation made by Slim is that while George did ultimately have to shoot Lennie himself in order to save him further suffering, this would not have been the case were he not too caught up in his own foolish daydreams to see life as it was happening around him.
I think at the end George fully realizes this. And though Lennie’s death is not entirely his fault, he feels responsible and humbled by the experience. It’s easy for the reader to infer that due to this traumatic experience, it is likely that George will never fully recover and never reach that dream by himself, regardless of his probable hatred of the idea. It is hard for the reader to find it likely that George would still want to pursue this goal without Lennie by his side as he has always been. George has learned too late that the thing he needed the most in life was not independence or personal property or anything material at all, but a friend for life.
“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. Don’t make no difference who the guy is, long as he’s with you. I tell ya” (80). As George and Lennie’s connection becomes more profound throughout the book, the reader has no choice but to also become attached to their relationship. Having a goal is a comforting thought, but when it comes down to it, it really is true that in life, all you need is love.