Lennie is George’s friend and the two travel together. Lennie has a mental disability, making him dependent upon George to manage day to day life in the difficult environment in which they live and work.
Lennie is physically very strong (so his name is ironic), but cannot control himself, leading to escalating acts of accidental violence through the book. He is obsessed with stroking soft things, such as animal fur. This starts with mice, which he kills, then leads to his puppy, which he also kills, before the tragic death of Curley’s wife when he strokes her hair. He does not mean to cause harm but is not aware of his own physical power.
Lennie is very innocent and sweet-natured; he always means well and is focused on simple pleasures, which his dream with George reminds the reader of. He lacks awareness of social conventions and so does not feel the same racism and prejudice against women that many of the other male characters feel. Lennie is happy to talk to Crooks and Curley’s wife, despite them being rejected by the other characters on the ranch.
Lennie only gets angry or aggressive when he feels that his friendship with George is threatened. For example, when Crooks suggests that George might abandon Lennie, Lennie reacts angrily, worried that Crooks is threatening violence against his friend.
Lennie is described as a very large, slow man.
Behind him walked his opposite, a huge man, shapeless of face, with large, pale eyes, with wide sloping shoulders;
Lennie’s physical vastness is emphasised here, which is linked to the problems that this causes later in the book. Whereas George’s quickness is concentrated upon when he is introduced (reflecting his intelligence) Lennie’s size is the focus of his introduction.
Lennie has no awareness of his own strength and cannot stop himself from hurting the animals he pets, which leads to him accidentally killing Curley’s wife.
He was so little,said Lennie.
I was jus’ playin’ with him ... an’ he made like he’s gonna bite me ... an’ I made like I was gonna smack him ... an’ ... an’ I done it. An’ then he was dead.
The use of ellipsis here shows how upset Lennie is as he is not able to speak fluently, demonstrating that he did not mean to cause any harm to his puppy. The way he repeats
an’ (meaning ‘and’) is childlike, which reflects the way that Lennie thinks and cannot control his own behaviour. The way that he describes the puppy’s death does not show the link between his actions and the outcome as he uses the passive phrase
then he was dead.
Lennie is kind and innocent and so does not understand other characters’ cruelty and anger properly.
Lennie covered his face with huge paws and bleated with terror. He cried,
Make ’um stop, George.
Lennie is described using animalistic language (
bleated), showing his lack of understanding as Curley attacks him. Rather than defend himself, which he could do easily because of his size, he looks to George for help and protection.
Lennie is cheerful and kind most of the time, quickly forgetting things that make him unhappy.
Tha’s good,he said.
You drink some, George. You take a good big drink.He smiled happily.
Even though George has just told Lennie off, Lennie quickly moves on and is focused on his immediate, positive experience. The way that he
smiled happily suggests that he is focused on simple pleasures and can be satisfied with small things in life; he is not demanding.