The Best Laid Plans of Mice and Men
The work out west in the 1930s was tough. John Steinbeck’s novel, Of Mice and Men, focuses on two men: one—a mentally handicapped man, the other—his friend and caregiver, facing the hardships of life in that region. When disaster strikes, one of them must make the hardest decision they will ever face. This novel deals with many tender subjects that most would have a great deal of trouble talking about, but Steinbeck is able to break through that barrier and create a touching story.
Steinbeck’s tone of pained recognition offers the sad reality that if one is different within the context of society’s standard, they are not accepted. Lennie Small, in contrast to his name, is a large, mentally handicapped man. His only friend and companion, George Milton, who is “small and quick…with restless eyes and sharp, strong features,” cares for and watches over him (Steinbeck 2). These two men travel together and find work where they can, and often must change locations because of the problems Lennie causes.
Because of his disability, Lennie has a child’s characteristics of innocence and naivete. It is those characteristics which invariably lead him deep into trouble. Like a child who behaves according to his role in society, Lennie innocently parallels this same manner. But, unlike society’s acceptance of how a child fits into its contexts, Lennie, an adult, is rejected. The way he is treated by people who do not know him reflects this. When the boss of the farm first meets the two men, he wants to make sure that George is not playing him for a fool.
The boss is suspicious that George could be trying to help Lennie obtain a job on the farm, only to take his pay from him at the end of the month. He does not stop to think that they are only two men searching for work: because of Lennie’s handicap, the boss never considers the possibility that George and Lennie are two men looking for honest work. It is the circumstances of Lennie’s handicap which cause the boss to always second-guess his motives; otherwise, anyone else looking for the same kind of job would never be as scrutinized.
Saddled with his handicap, Lennie’s judgments prohibit him from responding to people and situations normally. When George continued to answer for Lennie while they both were being questioned by the boss, the boss finally became suspicious of Lennie’s silence and said to George, “‘…why don’t you let him answer? What you trying to put over? ’” (22). Problems also arise when Lennie does not pay attention to what is being said around him. When Curly threatens to fight Carlson, and Carlson laughs it off, Lennie still is smiling at the memory of the ranch.
Curly believes Lennie was laughing at him, and decides to pick a fight with him. This leads to Curly’s fist being crushed in Lennie’s viselike grip. Of course, Lennie did not do this on purpose, but society would look at this as an act of violence that Lennie should not have committed, and should be punished for accordingly. When Lennie kills his pets, he usually responds by getting angry at them for dying. All he wants to do is pet them because they feel nice to him. So when they nip his fingers, he figures that he could pinch their heads, or shake them a little bit, and they would stop.
Well, they do stop, but only because they are dead. This is the same type of incident that occurred with Curly’s wife. She told Lennie to feel her soft hair, and when she started yelling for him to let go, he thinks that he can shake her up a little bit to stop her. Lennie does not know how to handle most situations correctly, so his judgments are not the type that regular society would be okay with. This is why society does not allow him to fit in with ‘normal’ people. Steinbeck’s purpose in Of Mice and Men is that one must recognize how society treats people who are not the same as everyone else.
Society as a whole always looked down upon people who did not meet the ‘standard,’ and still continues to do so to this day, though not as much as before. Society needs to fix the way ‘different’ people are treated, and end the inequality and unfairness. If someone is different, does that mean that they should be given different treatment? It all starts with one person’s decisions on how they believe they should treat someone else.