'Of Mice and Men' Characters: Descriptions and Significance

Of Mice and Men tells the story of George Milton and Lennie Small, two migrant field workers searching for farm work in southern California during the 1930s. When the book begins, George and Lennie have just arrived at a new ranch; there, George and Lennie—and, through them, the readers—meet a fascinating cast of characters.

Lennie Small

Lennie Small is a large, gentle-hearted migrant worker who has a mental disability. He relies on George Milton, his lifelong friend and fellow migrant worker, for guidance and safety. In George's presence, Lennie defers to his authoritative friend, but when George is not around, Lennie speaks more freely. Sometimes, he lets slip information that George told him to keep secret, like their plan to buy a plot of land.

Lennie loves touching anything soft, from fabric to a mouse's fur to a woman's hair. He is a classic gentle giant, never seeking to cause harm, but his physical power unintentionally leads to destruction. We learn from George that he and Lennie had to leave their last farm because Lennie couldn’t refrain from touching a woman’s dress and was ultimately accused of rape. When Lennie receives a puppy as a gift from one of the other field workers, he accidentally kills it by petting it too strongly. Lennie's inability to rein in his physical strength leads to trouble for both men, most notably when he accidentally kills Curley's wife.

George Milton

George Milton is both a domineering leader and a loyal protector of Lennie. The two men grew up together, but George exerts greater authority in the friendship because of Lennie's dependence.

George and Lennie frequently talk about getting land of their own. Lennie seems to take this plan very seriously, but George's commitment is less clear. For example, rather than saving money to buy land in the future, George blows his savings in one night while carousing at a bar.

George sometimes complains about his care-taking role, but he is clearly committed to looking out for Lennie. However, his reasoning is never clearly explained. It may be that George stays with Lennie because the relationship gives him a sense of authority when his life otherwise lacks self-determination. He also likely takes comfort in Lennie’s familiarity, as the two men travel regularly and never stake much of a claim anywhere.

After Lennie accidentally kills Curley's wife, George chooses to kill Lennie. The decision is an act of mercy to spare his friend from suffering at the hands of the other field workers.

Curley

Curley is the aggressive, short-statured son of the ranch owner. He struts around the farm authoritatively and is rumored to be a former Golden Gloves boxer. Curley constantly picks fights, especially with Lennie; one such fight leads to Lennie crushing Curley's hand.

Curley wears a glove on one of his hands at all times. The other workers claim the glove is filled with lotion to keep his hand delicate for his wife. Curley is, in fact, very jealous and protective of his wife, and he frequently fears she is flirting with the other workers. After Lennie accidentally kills Curley's wife, Curley leads the other workers on a murderous hunt for the newcomer.

Candy

Candy is an aging ranch handyman who lost one of his hands years ago in an accident. As a result of both his disability and his age, Candy worries about his future on the farm. When Lennie reveals that he and George are planning to buy land of their own, Candy feels he has received a stroke of luck, and he offers up $350 in order to join them. Candy, like Lennie, genuinely believes in this plan, and as a result is he is sympathetic towards George and Lennie throughout the novella, even going so far even as to help George delay the hunt for Lennie following Curley’s wife’s death.

Crooks

Crooks, who got his nickname because of his misshapen back, is a stable hand and the sole African American worker on the ranch. Because of his race, Crooks is disallowed from living in the barn with the other workers. Crooks is bitter and cynical, but nevertheless gets along well with Lennie, who doesn't share the other workers' racism.

Even though George has sworn him to secrecy, Lennie tells Crooks that he and George are planning to buy land. Crooks expresses deep skepticism. He tells Lennie that he’s heard all sorts of guys talk about all sorts of plans, but that none of them ever actually happened.

Later in the same scene, Curley's wife approaches the two men, chatting flirtatiously. When Crooks asks her to leave, Curley's wife hurls racial epithets at him and says that she could have him lynched. The incident is humiliating to Crooks, who then has to apologize to Curley’s wife in front of Lennie and Candy despite being the wronged party.

Curley’s Wife

Curley's wife is a young, pretty woman whose name is never mentioned in the novella. Her husband, Curley, is jealous and distrustful, and he frequently snaps at her. She has a sweet side, demonstrated when she tells Lennie about her childhood dreams of movie stardom, as well as a cruel streak, as evidenced by the racist verbal attack she launches at Crooks. Curley's wife precipitates the book’s climax by asking Lennie to stroke her hair, whereupon Lennie inadvertently kills her. Curley's wife is less developed than other characters, and she seems to serve mostly to drive the plot forward and stir up conflict.