chapter one. * both are separate questions.
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The rabbits symbolize the future; they are a part of George and Lennie's plan to have their own place. Lennie loves to touch soft things (he's gotten into a lot of trouble trying to touch soft things), thus the rabbits are important to him. George is even able to use the rabbits as a bribe in order to get Lennue to listen to him....... a type of reward or maybe more a control technique.
The author mentions them so that the reader can get a good look as to what George and Lenny are like not only characteristically......... but also emotionally. Their likes and dislikes....... their wants and emotional/ intelligence levels.
Of Mice and Men