How does Steinbeck make Lennie a sympathetic character?

Categories: Of Mice and Men

In the novel ‘Of Mice and Men’, John Steinbeck deliberately creates and describes the character of Lennie and the events that surround him in the aim of evoking the reader’s sympathy towards him.

It is obvious from the beginning of the novel that Lennie is in some way mentally disabled, and has the mind and actions of a child, the first time that a character mentions this is Slim, who remarks that Lennie is ‘Jes like a kid’, Curley’s wife also point out that he is ‘jus’ like a big baby’.

It is obvious to the reader of Lennie’s mental ability by the way he speaks, as he has a definite speech impediment. By having Lennie be described as like a child and by his actions being like a child, it effectively creates sympathy for the character from the readers. This is because it is always easy for a reader to feel sympathetic towards a person with mental difficulties as you can understand how challenging it must be in their situation.

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The events which occur around Lennie are a main factor in creating sympathy for him. The first incident when the reader feels extremely sympathetic towards Lennie is when he is petting a dead mouse and George takes it off him, at which point Lennie starts to cry ‘He heard Lennie’s whimpering cry and wheeled about. “Blubberin’ like a baby? Jesus Christ! A big guy like you’. This highlights Lennie’s immaturity and his childlike characteristics, it is like a young child being scolded and having something taken off them and then starting to cry, this is how Lennie reacts to this situation.

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Often in the book George will say to Lennie ‘Good Boy’, this further shows the childlike character Lennie is, as it has George talking down to Lennie and comforting him, the way a child needs comforting. Early on in the book, Lennie’s pathetic yet amusing attempts at proving to George that he could survive living on his own shows what a sadly hopeless character he is, ‘if you don’t want me, you only jus’ got to say so, and I’ll go off in those hills right there – and live by myself’. We know for a fact that Lennie would be completely incapable of surviving on his own let alone surviving in the mountains, the effect this exchange has on the reader one again points to Lennie’s hopelessness and adds to the sympathy you feel towards him.

Further on, Lennie is mistakenly taken to be laughing at Curley and Curley begins to punch him to which Lennie only reacts when ordered to by George. Lennie does not realise his own strength and crushes Curley’s hand, which was an unintentional way of getting him to stop. After this incident Lennie is described as ‘crouched fearfully against the wall’ and he cries how he ‘didn’t wanta hurt him’. Just after he has broken Curley’s hand you would not feel any sympathy towards Lennie, it is not until he shows his regret and remorse about the incident that it shows his timid and childlike side again.

No sympathy is felt towards Curley during this, because of the dislike built up against his character by this point even though he is the one seriously injured, all the sympathy is felt towards Lennie by the characters and the readers alike. After the encounter and being comforted by George, Lennie exclaims ‘I can still tend the rabbits, George?’ it shows how easily satisfied Lennie is and also how easy it is for him to forget major occurrences and get over them. When Lennie is given one of Slim’s pups it is a dream come true for him, George describes how ‘it was a hell of a lot to him. Jesus Christ, I don’t know how we’re gonna get him to sleep in here’. This shows Lennie’s low mentality and how such a small thing can bring so much pleasure to him, the reader feels a certain sympathy for Lennie at this point for his childlike mentality.

Towards the end of the book, Lennie accidentally kills the puppy which was given to him, by stroking it too hard. Initially he reacts to this by getting upset and crying ‘why do you got to get killed?’ this highlights his lack of knowledge and understanding with the concept of death, the reader feels sympathy towards the sorry state he is. However, Lennie then begins to get frustrated and angry about it and hurls the puppy away, he worries that by what he has done George will not let him ‘tend the rabbits’. At this point the sympathy towards Lennie stops, as this part shows his aggressive and selfish side as he is worrying for himself.

The situation soon becomes much more serious however, when Lennie goes on to accidentally kill Curley’s wife by breaking her neck whilst stroking her hair. This time Lennie realises more the serious implications of his actions and leaves the ranch to hide in the place where he was instructed to by George. In my opinion, by this point sympathy towards Lennie has all but stopped, even though he killed Curley’s wife by accident he did it by viciously holding his hand over her mouth to stop her screaming, as he felt that him being able to ‘tend the rabbits’ would be jeopardised. This is Lennie once again looking out for himself.

The sympathy felt towards Lennie is however regained, by the end of the book. Lennie is deeply remorseful about his actions and understand the burden he must be for George ‘I won’t be no more trouble to George’, and how what he does affects everyone else. In this final part Lennie is more childlike than ever, he cries and worries and calls for George like a child for its parent. George finally shoots Lennie and kills him, believing it is the best for Lennie and everyone else, a sort of mercy killing. However, you do not feel deep sympathy towards Lennie at this point as in a way he is free now of his mental burden, in my opinion I am glad that this was what happened to Lennie as his shackles have been cut loose and he nor anyone else has to suffer.

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How does Steinbeck make Lennie a sympathetic character?. (2017, Oct 25). Retrieved from

How does Steinbeck make Lennie a sympathetic character?

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