Friendship in John Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men”

It is often said that that hard times will reveal true friends, and this can never be truer as is shown in John Steinbeck’s novella, “Of Mice and Men”. The friendship between the two main protagonists, George and Lennie is quite interesting, as they navigate tough times as unskilled laborers during a time when employment is hard to come by. It does not help that Lennie is a full grown adult who suffers from a cognitive disorder.  Evidently, it is only George who is cognizant of Lennie’s impairment, and the associated behavioral complications. As the story unfolds, we get to see how Lennie becomes a liability to his friend George.  Every time Lennie stirs up trouble at a work place, which is quite often, the duo is forced to pack up and flee. It is then George’s responsibility to find them a new job, and to have them comfortably settled.  The two appear to have a special unbreakable bond, and will stick together through thick and thin. In the midst of the challenges, and backdrop of poverty in the lonely countryside is an exceptional relationship between two lowly farmhands.  All in all, life may be tough, but with friendship it is much easier to navigate these difficult moments as is revealed by these two characters in the novella “Of Mice and Men”.

To say that Lennie is a liability to George, would be an understatement. George is basically his friend’s caregiver.  George is well aware that Lennie would not get by on his own, and he makes the decision to look after him. However, this is not without its own complications, but it appears to be the price he must pay for friendship. They have known each other for a long time, and after the demise of Lennie’s aunt Clara, who was his primary caregiver, George took on the mantle to look after him. This alone reveal’s George’s strength of character, the ability to continue loving and caring for a friend with special needs. George soon discovers that it’s no easy task, yet he never walks away from Lennie. For starter’s Lennie is always landing them into trouble, and he doesn’t seem to remember his mistakes. According to George, there is a high probability that Lennie will repeat them. During one incident and unaware that George has his work card, Lennie appears to be looking for it, and he later admits to have lost it. In response, George retorts, “You never had none, you crazy bastard. I got both of ‘em here. Think I’d let you carry your own work card?” (Steinbeck 6). In fact, it’s George’s habit to lament how Lennie’s existence has been a big setback in his life. He envisions a more settled life, with less stress, and even entertains the idea of a family. “God you are a lot of trouble,….I could get along so easy and so nice if I didn’t have you on my tail. I could live so easy and maybe have a girl”(Steinbeck 7). However, hard as it may be, George cannot bring himself to leave Lennie. Evidently, he cares deeply for Lennie, and he is not the kind of man who will leave a helpless friend to pursue a more prosperous life.

It appears that George has an upper hand in the relationship, but on closer scrutiny, there are incidences where Lennie uses emotional blackmail to have his way. As much as George has taken up his role as the leader and decision maker of the two, he has a soft spot for Lennie, and the latter can be seen to exploit this vulnerability. After one of George’s emotional outbursts, Lennie recoils and threatens to leave and vows that he can happily live on his own. “If you don’t want me I can go off an’ find a cave. I can go away any time” (p.14).  It’s not a real threat but a way to have George’s sympathy. The strategy always works in calming down his friend whenever he’s infuriated. During such exchanges, George is intent on passing his message, but careful not to completely hurt Lennie’s kind words. Apparently, the two men have a pact to be by each other’s side. They do not want to be lonely like other farmhands who are miserable and likely to succumb to drunkenness. George frequently tells Lennie,

“Guys like us that work on ranches are the loneliest guys in the world. They got no family. They don’t belong no place. They come to a ranch an’ work up a stake and then they go inta town and blow their stake, and the first thing you know they’re poundin’ their tail on some other ranch. They ain’t got nothing to look ahead to.” Often he would finish of by stating, “With us it ain’t like that. We got a future. We got somebody to talk to that gives a damn about us. We don’t have to sit in no bar rom blowin’ our jack jus’ because we got no place else to go. If them other guys gets in jail they can rot for all anybody gives a damn. But not us” (p.15).  According to George, life is more bearable, and worthwhile because they have each other. Lennie gets him to remember this whenever he notes that George is about to give up on their friendship.

Steinbeck’s novella, “Of Men and Mice” uses friendship to challenge individualism that was predominant in American culture. It was during the depression, and times were difficult in the American west. Most farmhands struggled to get and keep jobs, and generally on the ranch it was every man for himself. Upon arrival on the farm, Lennie and George’s relationship catches everyone by surprise.  Initially the boss at the Soledad ranch is suspicious of Lennie’s and George’s relationship. Instead of viewing George as Lennie’s protector, he beliefs that the former is out to exploit the latter. Lennie is a stout man who can easily get a lot of work done, and the boss feels that George is selling him out so that he can get a share of the wages.  “Well, I have never seen one guy take so much trouble for another guy. I just like to know what your interest is” (Steinbeck 23).  The other farm hands also take time to understand the unusual alliance of the new employees. Steinbeck’s novella appears to champion for friendship as a way to overcome hard times and loneliness that affected a majority of ranch hands in the American west. Over time some men can be seen warming up towards George and Lennie. Slim, Crooks and Candy admire the friendship, and they begin to question their own aloofness and loneliness. Suddenly, friendship appears to be a good idea. Slim and George agree that most men on the ranch are lonely, and that is the reason they are mean and predisposed to aggressive behavior. “Yeah, they get mean,” Slim agreed. “They get so they don’t want to talk to nobody.” (Steinbeck 42). To overcome loneliness, Candy keeps an old dog that he has had since it was a puppy. The old dog stinks, but he isn’t about to get rid of it purely for sentimental reasons. Steinbeck’s novella makes a strong case in highlighting loneliness amongst ranch hands who work all their lives and never get to settle down. Friendship and companionship is championed as a way to overcome loneliness.

In conclusion, Steinbeck’ novella, “Of Mice and Men” succeeds in showing the importance of loyalty and friendship amongst men. Lennie’s and George’s friendship emerges as a successful and even functional relationship because it is characterized by loyalty. They are fully trusting of each other, and in one instance George reveals to Still that Lennie would do anything he tells him to do. On the other hand, Lennie is fully trusting of George. Curley, the boss’s son is very aggressive and uses his position to intimidate others on the ranch has no friends, and all his relationships are acrimonious. It doesn’t help that he has recently married a flirtatious wife. All the men in the ranch are careful to stay clear off her rest they provoke Curley. George warns Lennie thoroughly about Curley’s wife, and even refers to her as jail bait. Curley may have it all when it comes to material possessions, but his relationships are wanting as they are characterized by disloyalty and acrimony. In the novella, Steinbeck reveals that times may be difficult, but all a man needs is a good friend to navigate through tough times.