Analyzing Lennie Small in John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men

Last Updated: 31 Mar 2023
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In this essay I am going to be writing about one of the main characters in John Steinbeck’s novella ‘Of Mice and Men’. The story portrays the travels and arising problems of two migrant workers who share an uncommon friendship for the time and environment in which the novella is set. Lennie Small is the character I will be exploring and I will start off by giving a detailed explanation of his physical appearance and behaviour. Second I will look at his and the other main character George’s relationship which will then be followed by Lennie’s relationships with other characters throughout the book.

I will then go on to look at the foreshadowing in which Steinbeck displays in the story and finally I will conclude the story of its final climax. Steinbeck uses many different descriptions of Lennie Small in the novella. Often compared to animals, one of the first descriptions of him is him being compared to a bear. ‘He was dragging his feet a little, the way a bear drags his paws’, is a line which portrays an image of how physically large Lennie is while also suggesting the extent of his strength.

Lennie is also described to be ‘shapeless of face, with large, pale eyes’ which compares easily to a small innocent child who doesn’t understand his surroundings. The imagery created in this scene begins to imply that Lennie, even though a grown man, does not have a mind of his own, almost childlike, while always having someone to direct him through life. Despite his age, Lennie acts and speaks with immaturity due a mental disability. ‘Slowly like a terrier, who doesn’t want to bring a ball back to his master’ is a line Steinbeck wrote to emphasise Lennie’s immature personality.

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By comparing him to a terrier he becomes viewed as irrational with a very instinctive side to him. Steinbeck uses the word ‘master’ which signifies how Lennie, unable to make sensible decisions, needs a master or more so a carer. It stresses his naivety and also his loyalty to George. Furthermore in this novella Lennie doesn’t intentionally mean to do harm but that does not mean he is completely harmless. This is shown when Steinbeck writes ‘I wasn’t doing nothing bad with it, George.. jus’ stroking it. in the scene where George is demanding the dead mouse from Lennie. By writing this Steinbeck has suggested that the innocent Lennie is and both a victim and villain throughout his life. No matter how harmless he is within his mind, his strength betrays his personality leaving his child like mind, and brute strength a threatening combination. Steinbeck’s first description of George and Lennie’s relationship demonstrates the fact that George is very much like a father figure to Lennie.

He is constantly mimicking George and following obediently which is described when ‘they had walked in single file down the path, and even in the open one stayed one behind the other’. This quote emphasises the dominance in the relationship and how Lennie is always following behind George because he wants to show him respect. Also Lennie imitates George with the upmost precision, ‘Then (George) replaced his hat, pushed himself back from the river, drew up his knees and embraced them.

Lennie who had been watching imitated George exactly’ highlights this as it shows just how much Lennie looks up to George as if he is also a hero as well as a father figure in which he wants to make proud. It produces the thought that maybe all Lennie wants is for George to be proud of him and is symbolic to the fact Lennie looks up to George as a role model. In the opening dialogue between George and Lennie the nature of their relationship is easily distinguishable when George says ‘Lennie! Lennie for Gods sake, don’t drink too much.. ou gonna be sick like you was last night’ because it conveys how much George actually cares for and worries for Lennie without making it sound too affectionate. He speaks down to Lennie in a patronizing manner which also symbolises the authority in the relationship. In this novella one of the key things about Lennie and George is the dream they both wish to achieve. Due to Lennie’s childlike mind set and George’s fatherly role in Lennie’s life the dream becomes somewhat a bedtime story for Lennie. On several occasions ‘Lennie pleads “Come on George.

Tell me. Please, George. Like you did before. ” ‘ which further emphasises how much of a child he is due to the fact it makes him calm, happy and almost settled as if he were an infant going to bed. It could also portray the subconscious worries Lennie has so he feels the need to be reassured about their dream. Lennie’s relationships with other characters vary and progress throughout the novella. When Slim, the jerkline skinner, is first introduced to Lennie and George he is taken aback by the oddness of their relationship with each other.

He immediately see’s Lennie’s lack of mentality and later on states to George ‘it seems kinda funny, a cuckoo like him and a smart guy like you travelling together’ which is the first opinion Slim reveals towards Lennie. At first he only sees the childlike Lennie but after the situation explained he understands and views Lennie in a completely different light. ‘He’s a nice fella, guy don’t need no sense to be a nice fella’ is a line which Steinbeck wrote to show clearly how Slim respects and likes Lennie as it emphasises that he doesn’t just see the absence of intelligence but the nice guy hidden underneath the childish exterior.

Even though Slim doesn’t really get to know Lennie in this novella, his friendship with George allows him to understand Lennie and the position the two are in. Slim appreciates that Lennie is not a cruel person when he says ‘He ain’t mean, I can see Lennie ain’t a bit mean’ which further emphasises the intelligence Slim possess to see behind the original interpretation of Lennie as a man and shows how his feelings towards him have developed into somewhat respect. Another relationship that Lennie has is one with the stable buck, Crooks.

Steinbeck enforces this unspoken friendship between the two because both are isolated from the rest of the ranch workers, Lennie because of his size and childish behaviour and Crooks because of him being black and being segregated from the rest of the workers. Although Lennie is portrayed as the weakest mentally, he doesn’t understand the unwritten code of racial segregation which brings out the intelligent side to him which is proven in the way he acts towards Crooks. When Crooks questions him about why he has entered the barn Lennie replies with ‘Nothing- I seen your light.

I thought I could jus’ come an’ set’ which shows how innocent Lennie is and in a way how lonely he is as he goes to investigate the possibility that he could converse with someone. It could also show that Lennie sees crooks as an equal unlike the other men on the ranch who merely see his colour. In this novella Steinbeck uses foreshadowing a great deal throughout the whole story. It appears everywhere, hinting on what will happen to different characters and the way the story will develop. It is used to show that Lennie will be getting in trouble with Curley’s wife, her death and also his death and the exact way in which he dies.

The moment Curley’s wife is introduced an ill feeling overcomes the atmosphere signifying that Lennie will in fact be getting into some sort of mess involving her. George says at the very beginning ‘I seen ‘em poison before, but I never seen no piece of jail bait like her before. You leave her be’ is a quote from the novella which directly foreshadows Curley’s wifes death because by having George tell him to leave her alone, it’s obviously going to go the opposite way and something will end up bringing the pair together.

Another thing that adds to the foreshadowing of her death is Lennie’s tendency to ‘get carried away’ with touching soft, silky and pretty things. Throughout the novella the victims of Lennie’s harmless ‘petting’ gradually get bigger, starting off with the girls dress in Weed, the mouse, progressing on to Curley’s hand and the puppy and finally ending with Curley’s herself. The skirt, mouse, puppy and Curley’s wife all link in with the need to touch ‘soft things’ and the same reaction even happen in each.

Once they begin to panic or squirm Lennie reacts in a childlike way and doesn’t know what to do so he simply doesn’t let his hold of that object go. Excluding Curley’s hand which was purely down to animal and childish instinct, all the other incidents could connect to the idea that in Lennie’s naive mind, ‘soft and pretty’ things relate to the dream that he and George have and once the victims begin to struggle it instantly alerts Lennie that the dream is escaping him and he holds on in fear of letting go and loosing it.

The foreshadowing of Lennie’s death occurs at different points throughout the novella. The shooting of candy’s dog being the main one. When Carlson is trying to persuade Candy into letting him shoot the dog he says ‘He ain’t no good to you, Candy. An’ he ain’t no good to himself. Wh’n’t you shoot him, Candy? ’ which is exactly how Lennie is viewed as a partner of George. Both the dog and Lennie are connected as they both in some way weigh down their ‘owner’ and aren’t really useful to them.

Another thing which foreshadows his death is George’s constant reminders of how his life would be easier without him. ‘God you’re 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’ is a line which Steinbeck wrote to foreshadow what might happen in the end of the story as it is how George feels inside which he frequently tells Lennie at different points in the story. Lennie’s death, placed right at the end of the story, is no big surprise when it actually occurs. Beforehand Lennie and George are merely talking.

Lennie is confused as to why George isn’t shouting at him and this particular bit shows how much George secretly does care for Lennie and wishes that this didn’t happen. ‘No Lennie, I ain’t mad. I never been mad an’ I ain’t now. That’s the thing I want ya to know. ’ is a line from George which symbolises that no matter what bad things Lennie has ever done, George only wants the best for him, even if that means killing him. Steinbeck uses the phrase ‘never been mad’ to show that George is feeling guilty about his reactions towards Lennies mistakes in the past and trying to make it right.

Despite the fact he has already made the decision to end Lennie’s life George still finds it difficult to do so which is portrayed when Steinbeck wrote that ‘George raised the gun and his hand shook, and he dropped his hand to the ground again’. This quote lays emphasis on how challenging it is for George to follow through with his task. No matter how much of a dead weight Lennie is to him, they have still been together for a long while which adds to the fact George finds it so hard to kill him. The thing that played the most part in the decision George made to kill Lennie was Candy’s words, ‘I ought to of shot that dog myself, George.

I shouldn’t ought to of let no stranger shoot my dog. ’ because George understands that the death of Lennie is inevitable and is going to happen one way or another whether it be now or in the next town when he does something else wrong. Georges decision is reassured by Slim right at the end of the novella when he says ‘You hadda George, I swear you hadda’ because he understands the situation George is in and is trying to assure him that he made the right decision in killing Lennie. In conclusion, Lennie Small is a very complex character.

The description of his character is very precise and so is his personality. Throughout this novella it is obvious that Lennie’s character is the one that undergoes the least amount of development. His childlike mentality and mind set prohibit any possible expansion of his character however Lennie's protection from George, devotion to him, and dreams of the farm make him the character that he is. His portrayal of innocence during the course of the novella is a key reason why readers feel so much sympathy for him, and is the main way in which he is represented all throughout Of Mice and Men.

Related Questions

on Analyzing Lennie Small in John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men

How does Steinbeck present Lennie in mice and men?
Steinbeck presents Lennie as a gentle giant, with a childlike innocence and a strong loyalty to George. He is often portrayed as a victim of his own strength and naivety, and is often the source of both humour and tragedy in the novel.
How does Steinbeck present the characters of George and Lennie?
Steinbeck presents George and Lennie as two very different characters. George is a small, wiry man who is intelligent and quick-witted, while Lennie is a large, strong man who is slow-witted and childlike. Despite their differences, the two have a strong bond and rely on each other for companionship and support.
How would you describe Lennie in mice and men?
Lennie is a large, strong man with a childlike innocence and a love for animals. He is often naive and has difficulty understanding social conventions, but he is also loyal and devoted to his friend George.
How is Lennie presented in Of Mice and Men essay?
Lennie is presented as a gentle giant in Of Mice and Men. He is a large, strong man with a childlike innocence and naivety. He is often seen as a burden to George, but his loyalty and love for his friend is unwavering.

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Analyzing Lennie Small in John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men. (2017, May 21). Retrieved from

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