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The boss begins to question George and Lennie about their late arrival. He then asks their names. For the first time, we learn their last names-Milton and Small. This is also our first indication that the book may be a symbolic story, an allegory.
NOTE: THE STORY AS ALLEGORY
An allegory is a common literary device. It is usually a short story or book that tries to get across an important message about how people live or how they should live. Characters in an allegory usually stand for ideas and their names often show the ideas they stand for. When you see names in a story that sound like symbols, you should ask yourself, What messages is this author trying to get across here? Suggestions of what George and Lennie's names might stand for are in The Characters section of this guide. Think about the other characters' names as well. Most of them are short and descriptive-Crooks, Curley, Slim, the boss, Candy. They sound more like nicknames than names. Crooks' and Curley's names may show us that the ranch society isn't as straight or strong as it might be. Slim is the only really strong person on the ranch, but his name indicates that the ranch life is "slim" on strength as well.
The boss continues to question the new men, and George answers all the questions. He doesn't want Lennie's dumbness to show and maybe cost them their jobs. When Lennie does say something, two things happen-George scowls at him and the boss begins to address Lennie. Lennie starts to panic, as he often does when he's put on the spot. To ease the boss' suspicions, George begins to make up a story about why he and Lennie travel around together.
George often has to defend his staying with Lennie. Why can't he just tell people that they like each other and enjoy sticking together? Maybe it's because he is a little ashamed of traveling with a dummy like Lennie. But if that were true, why have they stuck together so long? Perhaps it is because he is uncomfortable admitting that he gets lonely. Loneliness is a part of life on this ranch and in our world. Nobody likes it, but we have all learned to live with it. As Candy says, "A guy on a ranch don't never listen nor he don't ast no questions." As we will see later on, the ones who are bothered the most by loneliness-Candy, Crooks, and Curley's wife-all try to link themselves with the dream vision that George and Lennie present.
After the boss leaves, George gets mad at Lennie for forgetting not to say anything. He notices that Candy has been listening, and yells at him for being nosy. Then he notices Candy's old dog. Keep your eye on this dog. He will play a big role in the story, foreshadowing future events.
A new character enters the bunk house, the boss' son Curley, who wears high-heeled boots like his father. Curley is always looking for someone. This time he is looking for his father; often he will be looking for his wife. Whenever Curley shows up he makes people feel uncomfortable. He is always trying to start a fight. You probably know people like Curley, and dislike them. They bring out the worst in everyone they meet.
Curley immediately starts to take on Lennie. He seems always to go after someone he thinks is weaker than he is. In the next two pages we are shown contrasts between Curley and Lennie. Curley is a "lightweight, and he's handy." He's a small man who picks fights. Lennie is big and "not handy." George warns that Lennie doesn't like to fight, but he usually wins because he "don't know no rules." This last remark seems to be another comparison of Lennie with animals.