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Steinbeck has masterfully and powerfully created the last chapter. The novel ends by the stream, in the same place it began. The repetition of the setting binds the story together. The pastoral setting by the stream, however, is not as peaceful at the end of the novel. Between the start and finish of the book, there have been a series of deaths. Candy’s dog has been shot to put it out of its misery, and Lennie has killed his puppy by petting it too hard. Most importantly, Lennie has accidentally killed Curley’s wife, which he knows is a terrible thing. As he sits by the stream waiting for George, he is very troubled, and his imagination runs wild. He has visions of his Aunt Clara and of a giant rabbit. Both scold him for his irresponsible behavior and the trouble that he has caused George.
The chapter is filled with pathos. Lennie knows he has done something bad, but his simple mind is unable to grasp the depth of trouble that he is in. He has no idea that his act is punishable by death. His only concern is that George will be angry with him and might not let him tend the rabbits. He even thinks again about going off and living by himself in order to save George from having to put up with him. When the big rabbit in his vision taunts him, saying he is not worthy of tending rabbits and that George is going to beat him for his behavior, Lennie cannot take it. He tells the rabbit that George would never be mean to him. Not wanting to hear more, Lennie then covers his ears and screams for George.
When George arrives at the stream, he already knows what he must do. He cannot allow the ranch hands to cruelly kill his friend; instead, he will use Carlson’s pistol to do the horrible deed himself. He does not want to be like Old Candy, regretting that he allowed someone else to kill his best friend, his old dog. George also knows he will perform the act as quickly, kindly, and mercifully as possible. First, however, he wants to calm Lennie down. He paints for him a picture of their planned farm and asks Lennie to look away and imagine it. George wants Lennie to die in happiness, believing the dream will come true. He also does not want Lennie to realize what is happening to him; he does not want his friend to feel betrayed. It is important to realize that Steinbeck shows George’s action to be one of mercy and kindness. He is faithful, loving, and compassionate to Lennie to the very end, selflessly doing the thing that is hardest for him to do in life.
Curley is furious, almost irrational, in this last chapter, but ironically the death of his wife wins him great sympathy and support from the ranch hands. Until her murder, everyone on the ranch had hated Curley. Now everyone rallies around him against Lennie. They also rally around George when they realize he has killed Lennie. Earlier the men had shown great concern for Candy over the killing of his dog. Unfortunately, they do not show the same respect and concern to George over losing his companion and friend. Slim is the only one who understands how George feels. As they walk away together for a drink, the mood is tragic. All hope for a better future for George or Candy is lost, for the dream has died with Lennie.