Character Analysis: George in "Of Mice and Men"

Categories: Hero

"Of Mice and Men" delves into major themes of hard reality, dreams, companionship, and tragedy, which are particularly relevant to the backdrop of 1930s America, marked by the Great Depression and widespread economic poverty. John Steinbeck masterfully portrays George as a complex character who, despite his flaws, evokes empathy from the reader.

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In this essay, we will explore how Steinbeck presents George as an anti-hero within the context of the narrative, examining the nuances of his character and the evolution of his heroic attributes.

George's Flawed Character

At the outset of the novel, Steinbeck paints a portrait of George as a character with evident flaws. George and Lennie embark on a journey to a ranch, symbolizing the itinerant and unsettled lifestyle of men during the 1930s. Even before their arrival at the ranch, signs of George's imperfections become apparent. He loses his temper with Lennie, described as acting "morosely," indicating a bad temper and unsociability. This early portrayal of George hints at his potential villainous side.

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It's possible to interpret George's frustration as a result of the complications they faced in Weed, foreshadowing the challenges that lie ahead. Steinbeck employs the word "restless" to imply the buildup of George's anger, further highlighting his inner turmoil.

Moreover, George's use of words like "explodes" and "snapped" in his interactions with Lennie intensifies the reader's perception of his temper. This heightened language blurs the lines between heroism and villainy, leaving the reader somewhat perplexed about George's character. However, it's important to acknowledge that while George displays moments of frustration, his hardships and the responsibility of caring for Lennie under challenging circumstances evoke empathy from the reader.

The Complexity of George's Relationship with Lennie

George's relationship with Lennie adds layers of complexity to his character, blurring the boundaries of conventional heroism. Lennie is portrayed as protective of George, exemplified when he growls and asserts, "Nobody hurts George." This protective instinct juxtaposes the two characters, accentuating their differences. Steinbeck may use this contrast to intrigue readers about the dynamics of their relationship, thereby emphasizing the human side of George and enabling readers to empathize with him given the circumstances.

Describing George as having "sharp, strong features" hints at both his physical appearance and his character. His rugged features are a testament to his life as an itinerant migrant worker during the Great Depression, but they may also symbolize his inner strength and resilience. Yet, George's most heroic quality lies in his unwavering care for others, particularly Lennie. Steinbeck acknowledges this when he writes, "I never seen one guy take so much trouble for another." This observation allows the reader to witness the tender and compassionate side of George.

Conversely, Steinbeck employs adverbs like "morosely," highlighting George's less admirable traits. Additionally, verbs such as "snapped" and "glared" paint a picture of George as harsh and sharp in his interactions. Coupled with adverbs like "harshly" and "briskly," these descriptions evoke an ambiguous reaction from the reader and diminish some of George's heroic qualities. This ambiguity becomes more pronounced as the novel progresses.

In contrast to George, Steinbeck characterizes Lennie as "patient," emphasizing his innocence in contrast to George's occasional frustration. However, George's expression of shame in the narrative, contrasting with his temper, adds another layer of complexity to his character. This internal conflict leaves the reader questioning whether George is a hero or a villain in his emotional response to Lennie's actions.

The Power of Dreams

The theme of dreams serves as a powerful symbol in the novel, representing the possibility of self-reliance and freedom. George's role as the dream's creator highlights his heroic attributes. Steinbeck presents George as a protector of other characters from the harsh realities of the world. Furthermore, George comes across as an inspirational and welcoming figure, as he allows Candy and Crooks to become "bemused by the beauty" of the dream. Although this dream intensifies their desperation and loneliness, it also underscores the trust and reliance they have in George.

While each character may subconsciously recognize the dream's unattainable nature, they remain "amazed" by it. George's reverent tone as he speaks about the dream conveys his deep respect and awe, treating it as if it were sacred. This connection to his surname, "Milton," which references "Paradise Lost," a 1930s poem about the destruction of a perfect place, further elevates his character. Here, Steinbeck accentuates George's humanity and heroism.

However, an alternative perspective suggests that George may have allowed the characters to harbor false dreams, knowing deep down that their aspirations were unachievable in the harsh economic context of the 1930s. Perhaps he agreed to share the dream because Lennie "usta like to hear about it." This interpretation adds complexity to George's character, blurring the lines between heroism and potential selfishness. Through George's dream, Steinbeck presents both heroic and potentially villainous aspects of his character, inviting readers to contemplate the nuances of his motivations.

The Merciful Act

In the novel's climactic scene, George commits a mercy killing by ending Lennie's life. This action is not driven by malice but by a desire to spare Lennie from a cruel fate at the hands of Curley. Steinbeck crafts a paradox in which George intends to kill Lennie, yet he portrays it as a cruel act intended for kindness. The internal conflict within George's character reaches its resolution as he grapples with the decision. The reader observes that Curley would have subjected Lennie to brutal and prolonged punishment, shooting him "for his guts." In this context, the reader empathizes with George as he faces a moral dilemma between two harrowing choices.

In contrast to George, Steinbeck presents Curley as an archetypal villain, describing him as a "terrier" with malicious intent. The use of such malevolent language elevates Curley's villainous traits above those of George. Phrases like "lashed" and "harsh" further reinforce the reader's negative perception of Curley, making it difficult to trust him and generating a sense of alertness and tension whenever he is present. When comparing George and Curley, George's villainous qualities recede, allowing his heroic actions to shine through.

Despite George's occasional complaints about Lennie, he shares a brotherly connection with him. Lennie provides an escape from the loneliness that plagues itinerant workers, who are often considered "the loneliest guys in the world." However, another perspective that enhances George's heroism is that he may have realized Lennie posed a danger to society, leading to his decision to end Lennie's life.


In conclusion, John Steinbeck crafts George's character with depth and complexity, ultimately presenting him as an anti-hero within the narrative of "Of Mice and Men." George's flaws, such as his occasional temper and moments of frustration, are juxtaposed with his unwavering care and protection of Lennie. The theme of dreams serves as a powerful symbol through which George's heroic attributes become evident. His role as the dream's creator and protector of other characters underscores his humanity and kindness. In the climactic scene, George's mercy killing of Lennie reveals the moral complexity of his character, as he grapples with a painful decision. While George may not fit the mold of a conventional hero, it is his depth and internal conflicts that make him a compelling and relatable character, ultimately leaving the reader with a profound sense of empathy.

Updated: Nov 02, 2023
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Character Analysis: George in "Of Mice and Men". (2018, Aug 23). Retrieved from

Character Analysis: George in "Of Mice and Men" essay
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