Mice and Men

-Steinbeck's characters are often the underdogs, and he shows compassion toward them throughout the body of his writings. Powerlessness takes many forms — intellectual, financial, societal — and Steinbeck touches on them all.

Although Lennie is physically strong and would therefore seem to represent someone of power, the only power Lennie possesses is physical. Because of his mental handicap and his child-like way of perceiving the world, he is powerless against his urges and the forces that assail him. For example, he knows what it is to be good, and he doesn't want to be bad, but he lacks the mental acuity that would help him understand and, therefore, avoid the dangers that unfold before him. Hence, he must rely on George to protect him. George, in this regard, is also powerless. Although he can instruct Lennie on what to do and not do, and although he perceives the danger posed by Curley's wife, he cannot be with Lennie every hour of every day and, therefore, cannot truly protect Lennie from himself. In the end, the only thing that George can do is protect Lennie from the others.

Another type of powerlessness is economic. Because the ranch hands are victims of a society where they cannot get ahead economically, they must struggle again and again. George and Lennie face overwhelming odds in trying to get together a mere $600 to buy their own land. But they are not the only ones who have shared the dream of owning land, nor the only ones who have difficulty securing the mean by which to do it. As Crooks explains, "I seen guys nearly crazy with loneliness for land, but ever' time a whorehouse or a blackjack game took what it takes." In other words, it is part of the human condition to always want instant gratification rather than save for tomorrow. As long as the men spend their money on the weekends, they will continue to be powerless. On the other hand, living lives of unremitting loneliness and harshness makes companionship — even for a weekend —...