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Lennie is further developed in this chapter. Slim says he is likable and compliments him as a hard worker. He wants to know more about George’s friendship with him. George explains that Lennie is slow, but not crazy. He shares a significant incident with Slim. Once George told Lennie to “go jump in a river.” Lennie, not understanding the comment, obeyed his friend literally, even though he did not know how to swim. When George rescued him, Lennie was very appreciative, forgetting that it was George who told him to jump. It is obvious that Lennie has great respect for and child-like trust in George.
Slim is also developed in the chapter. He is a leader amongst the ranch hands, commanding respect. It is also clear that he is mentally superior to the other workers. He appreciates the kind of friendship that George and Lennie share and recognizes its rare quality. He also learns to look at Lennie through George’s eyes, seeing him as a child who must be guided and disciplined. He is also self-confident and is not afraid to stand up to Curley when he falsely accuses him.
A portion of the chapter is devoted to Candy and his dog, and there are many parallels that can be drawn between that pair and George and Lennie. Candy is devoted to his dog, and, in return, it follows its master everywhere. In a similar manner, George is devoted to Lennie, who will follow him anywhere. Candy’s dog emanates an awful odor which goes unnoticed by Candy; they’ve been together for so long that Candy has gotten used to the stench. Similarly, Lennie can be a nuisance and a pain, but George is so used to his presence that he barely notices Lennie’s odd ways. Candy agrees to have his dog killed, for he realizes that it has become a social nuisance. In a similar manner, George will kill Lennie, since he is judged to be a threat to society. After Candy agrees to the killing, he turns toward the wall, unable to face the dog or the people. Before George shoots Lennie, he asks the latter to look away. After his dog’s death, Candy feels lost and alone, foreshadowing how George will feel after Lennie is gone.
Steinbeck portrays the harsher side of life through Carlson. On a superficial level, he seems totally brutal, caring only about his own discomfort in regards to Candy’s dog. In truth, his suggestion that the dog be killed and replaced with a puppy is practical advice, for the animal is very old, blind, crippled, and stinking. Carlson volunteers to shoot the dog to spare Candy from having to do it himself. Later, Candy says he should have shot the dog himself. But Carlson sees it as an act of mercy, just like George’s shooting Lennie is intended to be an act of mercy. The reactions of the men to the two deaths is very different. In honor of Candy, they maintain a respectful silence until they hear the gunshot announcing the dog’s death. Their conversation afterwards is muted and respectful. After Lennie’s death, the men show no sensitivity to George; only Slim appreciates what has happened and shows George any concern. In truth, they seem to value the life of a dog more than the life of Lennie.
Although the dream of the farm is a recurring image in the first two chapters, it takes on a new significance in this chapter. George and Lennie are different from the other workers on the farm because they have a dream, a purpose. Their life has more meaning than going down to Susy’s place. When Candy hears about the plans of George and Lennie, he wants to join them, hoping to find peace and contentment in his last days. Now that he has lost his dog, his faithful companion, he has nothing and belongs nowhere. He offers his life savings of 300 dollars for the chance to go with them and promises to work hard. At first George hesitates to include Candy, but he realizes that Candy’s proposition leads them closer to the fulfillment of the dream and accepts it. The irony is that George and Lennie really do come close to fulfilling the dream. Had they been able to leave the ranch, Lennie’s tragedy would have been avoided.
The first real conflict that Lennie has on the ranch occurs towards the end of this chapter.
When Slim and Carlson refuse to fight with Curley, he deliberately picks on Lennie, striking him. Lennie remembers George’s warning and obeys, trying to stay out of trouble and not striking back. When George sees what is happening, he urges Lennie to defend himself. In the ensuing fight, Curley is thrown to the ground and his hand is crushed. Curley agrees to say that his hand was crushed in a machine, not telling his father or the other ranch hands the truth, for he is ashamed of his defeat. The reader is aware, however, that Curley will want his revenge.
After the fight, Lennie feels guilty, for he did not mean to really hurt Curley. He simply does not know the power of his own brute strength, foreshadowing the tragedy at the end of the novel. Lennie is also fearful that he has displeased George. His main concern is that he will not be allowed to go to the farm or have any rabbits.