Of Mice and Men

How does George feel about Lennie? How do you know this?

Section 6: Of Mice and Men

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At the novel's end, a few haunting questions remain. Why, after all, is George so attached to Lennie? What did he gain from the infantile and troublesome giant's companionship? Many theories have emerged over the years, as readers and critics have speculated that George is somehow specifically in Aunt Clara's debt, that George and Lennie are actually related after all, or even that George and Lennie are in love - romantically, not merely as friends. However, before (or at least alongside) such speculation, it's important to note that Steinbeck deliberately chooses to leave this central question murky. In a novel so carefully wrought in all other respects, this central motivational ambiguity stands as a deliberate and unsolvable mystery.

The simple answer may be that in the callous world of the itinerant laborer, the constant loyalty and companionship of a man like Lennie acts as an antidote to alienation. Lennie, paradoxically, represents the instinctual innocence in life. Writers as diverse as William Blake in his Songs of Innocence or Mark Twain in The Mysterious Stranger have explored the interesting ways in which innocence is not, in fact, altogether innocent. Divorced from a sense of good and evil, the truly innocent are capable of performing acts of apparent cruelty without remorse. Lennie is just such an innocent. He tempers George's worldly weariness with the constant presence of discovery and hope even as he plagues George's life with the threat of misunderstanding and ignorant folly. In many ways, Lennie completes George. And as his hollow despair at the close of the novel suggests, George ultimately needs Lennie's innocence just as much as Lennie depends on George's experience.