Everyone in their lifetime desires the comfort of a friend, but will settle for the attentive ear of a stranger. In the novel, Of Mice and Men, Steinbeck shows how lonely people were during the 1930’s. He teaches a grim lesson about the nature of human existence, and how the characters in the story had to admit at one time or another to having a profound sense of loneliness and isolation. Although each character had their own secluded troubles, Curley’s wife, Crooks, and Candy, suffered the most from loneliness.
Curley’s wife is the only female character in the story who is never given a proper, and is only mentioned in reference to her husband. The men on the farm refer to her as a “tramp”, a “tart”, and a “looloo”, and she represents the temptation of female sexuality in a male-dominated world. Steinbeck depicts Curley’s wife not as a villain, but rather as a victim. Like the ranch-hands, she is desperately lonely and has broken dreams of a better life. For example, she tells Lennie, “I get lonely. You can talk to people, but I can’t talk to nobody but Curley.” (95) This shows how aware she is about Curley’s insecurity, which causes her to converse with the other men in secret.
Curley expects his wife to do as he tells her at all times, and expects her to isolate herself from everyone else and to only talk to him. In addition, Curley’s wife also adds after discovering where Curley had gone too “Think I don’t know where they all went? Even Curley?” (77) Curley’s wife despises the requirements and demands her husband has over her, fully knowing that Curley is unfaithful to her. Using this against her husband, Curley’s wife does the exact opposite of what he tells demands of her, and does as she wants whenever Curley isn’t around, and tries to have the guys understand that all she needs is a friend. Curley’s wife, being a woman, is expected to obey a man at all times, but since she is a free-spirited woman, she has hopes and dreams just like everyone else that she had to give up to spend the rest of her miserable life being isolated.
Candy, the old swamper, is a lonely character because he is different from everyone else and doesn’t really have anybody to call “friend”. For example, Candy tells George, “I’d make a will an’ leave my share to you guys in case I kick off, ‘cause I ain’t got no relatives nor nothing.” (59) Candy clearly says in this statement that he is desperate to not spend the rest of his life alone. He was willing to give George and Lennie his life savings to be a part of their American Dream, and clings to the idea of having the freedom to take up or set aside work as he chooses. In addition, Candy continues to persuade George, “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.” (60) Candy compares himself to his old dog that was shot because he was no longer useful and the guys at the ranch didn’t want him to suffer anymore. He knows that he will get fired from his job soon, because he as well is getting very old and useless, and wished that once he does get fired, one of the men on the ranch will shoot him to put him out of his misery, because he will have no one left to spend his life with. Candy is a hard worker, however, he fears that he will be alone for the rest of his life and tries to do everything in his power to avoid that worrying obstacle.
Crooks is a lively, sharp-witted, African American who takes his name from his crooked back. Like most of the characters in the story, he admits that he is awfully lonely. When Lennie visits him in his room, his reaction certainly reveals this fact. “’Why ain’t you wanted?’ Lennie asked. ‘Cause I’m black.’” (68) At first when Lennie visited Crooks, he turns Lennie away, hoping to prove a point that if he, as a black man, is not allowed in white men’s houses, then whites are not allowed in his. However, his desire for company ultimately wins out and he invites Lennie to sit with him. Like Curley’s wife, Crooks is a disempowered character who turns his vulnerability into a weapon to attack those who are even weaker.
Crooks adds, “A guy sets alone here at night, maybe readin’ books or thinkin’ or stuff like that. Sometimes he gets thinkin’, an’ he got nothin’ to tell him what’s so an’ ain’t so. Maybe if he sees somethin’, he don’t know whether it’s right or not. He can turn to some other guy and ast him if he sees it too.” (73) Crooks as a black and handicapped man, is forced to live on the periphery of ranch life. He is not even allowed to enter the white men’s bunkhouse, or join them in a game of cards. His resentment typically comes out through his bitter harsh intellect, but in this passage he displays a desolate, touching vulnerability. Crooks desire for a friend by whom to “measure” things echoes George’s earlier description of the life of a migrant worker.
These characters each crave the reassurance of a friend at one time or another and are all rendered helpless by their isolation, and yet, even at their weakest, they seek to destroy those who are even weaker than they are. Because of this strong feeling of loneliness, it isn’t surprising that the promise of a farm of their own life filled with strong bonds holds such allure.