Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck, is a story which shows how weak the human trait of loyalty can be if put through the test of time. It shows how people can turn on their family, best friend, and even their life-long companions if they are presented with the opportunity for advancement in life. This novel shows the reader the true animalistic nature of all humans through the use of highly developed characters as well a thoroughly developed story line.
George is not a strong man physically, but what he is lacking physically he makes up for in his mentality. Although his abundance of mental strength does not become apparent until later in the story, it is fairly obvious from the beginning that his physical strength is lacking. Lennie, on the other hand, is physically “strong as a bull”(22), according to George, but mentally is a weak as George is physically. Together, as they travel from place to place looking for their chance at making their dream a reality, they use each other’s strong points to help them complete the task. Without one another the two characters would have absolutely no chance at success, for what one is lacking the other has an ample amount of. George and Lennie are the perfect example of how opposites attract.
The two of them have spent the majority of their adult lives together and know each other better than they know anybody else in the entire world. They share their hard times and the good, their victories and their defeats, but most importantly they share a common dream. That dream is of having “a little house and a couple of acres an’ a cow and some pigs an’ live off the fatta the lan’”(14), where Lennie can take care of the rabbits just as George has been taking care of him over the years. This is Lennie’s chance to pay George back for all of the kindness that he has had bestowed upon him out of his true love and loyalty towards George.
When they arrive at the ranch where they will be working the first person that they meet is an older gentleman named Candy. Candy has lived a long and hard life on the ranch and has nothing to show for it. During his time on the ranch he has lost his hand, grown old, and feels that he has become worthless. The name “Candy” is an interesting one for this character though. When you think of candy you see children eating it while running around in the yard having a good time without a care in the world. This is the exact opposite of what the character in the novel is. The restless demon of age has caught up with him and he is not able to move as fast as he once did; even his dog is unable to ward off the negative effects of time.
Candy loves his dog with all of his heart; it has been his best friend for years and according to Candy he has “Had him since he was a pup. I herded sheep with him.” (44) Even though he cannot run as fast as in his prime or herd sheep like he did when he was younger Candy loves him just the same. He appreciates all of the joy and loyalty that his once great dog has brought to him during his life and is ready to let his friend now live out the rest of his natural life. Unfortunately that is not the way that some of the other people in the room see it. Carlson feels “This ol’ dog jus’ suffers hisself all the time. If you was to take him out and shoot him right in the back of the head… right there, why he’d never know what hit him”(45). Carlson even offers to give him a new dog to replace the one that he is about to destroy. The way that Candy sees it is that he is not hurting anyone and that there is no reason to have to end his life prematurely. Even though Candy loves his dog more than anything else in the world he chooses to let someone shoot his dog in the back of the head. After all that they had been through and all the years of loyal service that his supposed best friend had performed for Candy, when pressured into a decision, he chose to defy his loyal companion and make the decision on when he should die. This leads one to wonder why he made the decision that he did. What drove Candy to defy the trust his loyal companion of years? Candy knew that his pet had limited time left in his life, and after he passed, who would Candy have to call a friend? He let Carlson kill his dog in hopes that the other workers would then give him the friendship and loyalty that his dog had provided him for years. If this happened, Candy would not have to spend the rest of his life alone and desolate in his old age; he would then have friends and people who he could talk to. He had been lacking this for years and wanted to obtain it desperately, even if it meant betraying his oldest friend.
George and Lennie have the same relationship that Candy and his dog have shared for so many years. They are as close to each other’s hearts as any two people can be in life. George has given up his chance at a somewhat normal life to help Lennie live as full of a life as he is mentally capable of doing. As the story progresses you see that George starts to resent the fact that he is being held back by Lennie: “…crazy son-of-a-bitch. You keep me in hot water all the time”(11). After George said this “His anger left him suddenly.” When George blows up on Lennie he then remembers that although he does a lot of Lennie, Lennie does a lot for him. Without each other both would be lost in life and have nobody else to turn too. This all changes once the two characters get their jobs on the ranch together. George fits in very well with all of the other workers on the ranch and sees that for the first time in his life, he has a chance to live a typical life. He becomes almost infatuated with the idea of being able to have friends and not have to travel all over the place running from the trouble that Lennie has got them into. As time goes by on the ranch where the two characters are working, George starts to become a little slack on looking out for Lennie. He knows that Lennie cannot take care of himself and that it is hard for him to stay out of trouble, but he still leaves him alone more than he has before. It seems that George’s priorities have been switched around and that he is more concerned with having a good time with the guys than he is about making sure that his life-long companion is safe and not getting himself into trouble on the ranch. This is shown rather clearly when George goes into town and leaves Lennie behind to do as he pleases. He is not worried about what kind of trouble Lennie may get in to; all he is thinking about is having the chance to go out with the guys and have a good time. This is something that he could not have done in the past because he had to worry about Lennie and make sure that he was not going to get into any trouble that would endanger himself or George. For some reason he does not seem to worry about this when he makes the decision to leave. Is it because he is happy that Lennie is not going to be around him this time and that he can go and do as he pleases without having to have Lennie tag along and put George in an awkward position with the rest of his fellow workers? It seems that this is exactly what he is thinking when he totally disregards the idea that Lennie could make a mistake which would lead to dire consequences.
Later in the story George once again puts his new found friends in front of the obligation to take care of his best friend in the entire world. While George is outside playing horseshoes with all of his coworkers from the ranch he lets Lennie wander around and do as he wishes, which he knows can lead to trouble. While outside having fun with the others he never even seems to worry about where his traveling partner is or what he is doing. George is preoccupied with his other life, the one spent away from Lennie and his responsibilities.
When George finds out that his neglecting to supervise Lennie has led to a tragedy he never once blames himself. If he would have been watching Lennie and taking care of him as he promised to do, none of this would have happened and nobody would be dead. Now, due to George’s lack of loyalty to Lennie and his promise to take care of him, Lennie is doomed to suffer the consequences of an action that could have been prevented had he not been left alone.
George knows that the workers from the ranch will kill Lennie when they find him and gives only a half-hearted effort to try to persuade them from pursuing this act of destruction and murder. As the story closes, George, in a somewhat noble act of kindness, makes the effort to find Lennie before any of the workers from the ranch can. He has a choice to make after he finds Lennie: he can run away and hide as he has done in the past, therefore insuring the safety of his onetime closest companion, or he can take Lennie’s life himself. Due to his lack of loyalty to Lennie and his selfishness he chooses to take Lennie’s life. It is significant to the story how George decides to kill his friend. He does not even give Lennie a chance to get away from his pursuers but instead he shoots him in the back of the head just like what had been done to Candy’s dog.
After all of the loyalty and love that both of these creatures had given to their respective “friends”, both of the superior creatures decide that they don’t need them any more and choose to end the dominated creatures lives in a less than honorable manner. When given the chance to gain something that he wanted, George chose to alienate and kill his most loyal friend in the world in the same manner that dogs and other less than human creatures are disposed of when they are no longer needed. This display of George’s animalistic nature when presented the chance for advancement in life shows that loyalty, when put to the test, is never as strong as the person’s desire to achieve his own dreams.
Although Steinbeck is not trying to say that you can never trust the people that you call your friends, he is saying to be careful of those who call you a friend but only think of themselves while saying it. Even after spending the majority of his life calling Lennie a friend, George still betrayed him for the chance to become who he wanted to be. The animalistic nature of people tends to come out when they have the chance to seize what they believe is rightfully ours. So don’t trust everyone who can trust you because everyone has got an agenda in life that shows us where they want to be. If you stand in the way of obtaining their goal they may be likely to step over you to get to it. As George has showed us, the human trait of loyalty can become very weak if put through the test of time, so avoid trying to test it so that you may not end up as Lennie did, being treated no better than an old man’s dog.