It is easy to see Lenny as an innocent who had simple longings, an unfortunate due to his disability but fundamentally a sympathetic character; however, it seems to me that while most of his violence was accidental and he did not start the fight with Curly that resulted in Curly's hand being injured, there is evidence that he is not completely incapable of initiating violence and is in no way generous or interested in the welfare of others, including -- and especially -- George.

When Crooks, the injured ranch hand (also disabled, also excluded), teases Lenny (foolishly and somewhat sadistically but perhaps more cruelly than he had intended or, perhaps deliberate in his cruelty) about George not returning, Lenny rapidly becomes angry and it seems very possible that he might have attacked and injured Crooks. Even in his fight with Curly, although clearly not Lenny's fault, he might well have killed Curly had no one intervened.

But again, where in the novel does Lenny express any interest in George beyond the place he hopes they live in together? Every single conversation with George centers around Lenny: what Lenny wants or what Lenny is doing wrong that might endanger himself or them both.

Even his desire to handle animals is fundamentally selfish. Rewatching the beautiful Burgess Meredith/Chaney version and I had forgotten how violently Lenny responds when George mentions cats. This is further evidence that he is not a good guy. Alan from Hangover, Part II reminds me of Lenny.

I wonder if this was deliberate on Steinbeck's part, to have a character who despite his innocence is not actually particularly kind or generous.

2 Answers 2


I think that 'good' and 'bad' are concepts which, whilst they appear quite basic on the surface, are too complex for Lennie to apply to his own motivations, though I suspect her recognises them in other people.

Lennie is almost permanently in a state of fear and anxiety. He doesn't understand people and he doesn't understand the world. He understands that he finds comfort in animals, and that George protects him and promises him a place of refuge filled with animals.

His state of fear and anxiety means he is, in many ways on a 'survival setting', all the time. He has a single goal of reaching the refuge of their farm. My interpretation of him is that while he can communicate with people, that communication doesn't extend to understanding their feelings or motives much beyond being able to tell when they are angry with him.

Lennie does exhibit care for George, when we first meet them and Lennie drinks from the pool, he thinks the water is good (George is more dubious) and encourages him to drink. He wants George to share the good water. Then when they make camp and eat the beans which George was carrying, Lennie keeps going on and on about how he likes ketchup with his beans, and how he wants mice and rabbits to pet. George gets cross with him and Lennie's response is to tell George that he was only joking about ketchup and if they had any George could eat it all. Then he asks if George wants him to go away, after George says what a great life he would have without Lennie. he seems to make the offer in all sincerity:

George still stared morosely at the fire. "When I think of the swell time I could have without you, I go nuts. I never get no peace."

Lennie still knelt. He looked off into the darkness across the river, "George, you want I should go away and leave you alone?"

"Where the hell could you go?"

"Well, I could. I could go off in the hills there. Some place I’d find a cave."

"Yeah' How’d you eat. You ain’t got sense enough to find nothing to eat."

"I’d find things, George. I don’t need no nice food with ketchup. I’d lay out in the sun and nobody’d hurt me; An’ if I foun’ a mouse, I could keep it. Nobody’d take it away from me."

George looked quickly and searchingly at him. "I been mean, ain’t I?"

"If you don’ want me I can go off in the hills an’ find a cave. I can go away any time."

Although we can speculate that Lennie wouldn't actually stay away for long, the consequence of going away from George would be giving up the hope of ultimate refuge at the farm. That is an act of self sacrifice which many would accept of proof of capacity for 'goodness', even if there is only one person he would tender that kindness to.

  • right, Lenny did offer to go away (not really sincere, I think) but yet another conversation centered on himself -- he can literally talk of nothing besides what he wants, what he will do. he is not bright enough to be interested in others while i have observed even in dogs and cats more sympathy for others.
    – releseabe
    Sep 21, 2020 at 14:52
  • @releseabe There we have to differ, I don't doubt the character's sincerity, I only doubt his ability to remember that he was staying away, as we are shown that he can't remember why they are leaving their last place, or what he is supposed to do if there is trouble. You asked if he was 'fundamentally good', insofar as that has any meaning, I think he is, in regard to his only friend at least.
    – Spagirl
    Sep 21, 2020 at 15:10
  • This may sound like a silly a story but I was briefly fostering a kitten who needed me to be in the same room with her every second. Then I managed to to talk a neighbor into taking her and that kitten, overhearing us, somehow understood the arrangement and thereafter ignored me. I think Lenny would do the same thing to George potentially if he found another protector. (Don't ask me how the kitten understood what was discussed but it sure seems like she did -- the mind is a mysterious thing and animals of more awareness than we give then credit for.)
    – releseabe
    Sep 21, 2020 at 15:22
  • 1
    @releseabe we’re into the realms of extrapolating far beyond the novella here. But my take in the character is that there would have to be some kind of catastrophic break for him to detach from George, he wouldn’t do so on a whim.
    – Spagirl
    Sep 21, 2020 at 15:38
  • I disagree and i have experience with humans, not just kittens, in this.
    – releseabe
    Sep 21, 2020 at 15:45

Today we would say that Lennie is autistic. He doesn't understand social situations very well. This makes him an innocent because one part of maturity is to understand social situations and handle them well, or well enough. As an innocent, he is fundamentally a good person. The evil of the world hasn't entered him. It's merely that he doesn't know his own strength.

  • No, we would say he is mentally handicapped. People misuse the term autism often.
    – releseabe
    Jan 11 at 15:47
  • Mozibur, would you not say that in his interaction with Crooks he shows genuine anger and willingness to attack him? Crooks was not just foolish but also wrong to have teased him, but Lenny understands enough to know he is being teased and has enough anger in himself to take disproportionate vengeance -- he is not a completely gently innocent.
    – releseabe
    Jan 12 at 8:34

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