This short story of John Steinbeck's is a study in human nature - as it was in the poor south of the USA when it was written - 1937. It was a time when itinerant labourers went from ranch to ranch looking for work - any kind work - that could be done with muscle and little brain.
Even someone with diminished mental capacity, like Lennie, could find work as long as he was strong - and Lennie was extremely strong. It was his biggest asset, and his biggest problem. A touch from Lennie could be lethal. He dearly loved little furry things, and anything that was soft to touch. But Leenie scared very easily; he knew that he did bad things - but only because people told him so. They were not really 'bad' things, because morality did not enter into them, and Lennie in his way knew that too, so he was left with a great deal of confusion. He never wanted to cause trouble, because that would alienate him from Goerge, and George was his earth's centre - his only security in a hopelessly confusing world.
When he though he was in trouble, he froze. If he happened to be stroking something at the time, he clung to it, too afraid to let go, and totally unable to analyse what the trouble was. The greater the crisis, the greater his grip - and his grip could kill. So it was with the little mice, but no on cared much about them.
He got himself and George into trouble wherever they went, and got them fired from every job George managed to land. George's life was one of total frustration. He knew Lennie was harmless, and at heart a very sweet guy, unwilling that anybody should suffer. But George did suffer - terribly. His conscience would not let him desert Lennie, but his life was reuined because of him. Life had no permanence, and the only certainty was that it was just a matter of time before Lennie did something that would put the on the the run again. But how could he leave him? Where could Lennie go? Lennie understood this in his limited way,
In this story George finds them employment at a ranch owned by a man who had a short son with a chip on his shoulder, and a shabbily pretty wife on his arm. She spelled trouble, and George warned Lennie not to ever talk to her or have anything to do with her. Also working at the ranch was a collection of men, some mean, some OK, all of them poor and dependent on their jobs to survive. Slim was the foreman, and a decent person. His dog had a littler, and knowing Lennie's fondness for soft furry things, he gave one of the pups to him. Old Candy was tired and old, and had a very old, smelly dog; blind, arthritic, deaf and past enjoying life. One of the ranchers talked him into putting the dog out of his misery, and finally Old Candy let him take the dog away and shoot it. He was quietly devastated from the loss of his faithful old friend, and guilty because he had not done the necessary deed himself. In this incident, is the foreshadow of Lennie's future.
Lennie pets the pup so much he dies, and later when Curley's wife come's into his room to talk, he is struck by her soft hair. When he inadvertentaly kills her, he flees, as prearranged by George to a hiding place to wait for George to come. In the mean time, Curley has raised a posse to hunt down and kill Lennie.
George reaches him first, knowing where he would be. George is faced with the unlivable thought that although totally innocent and unknowing, Lennie was about to die at the hands of men who would not stop to understand him, but judge him by what he had done.
Lennie, like the dog, could not really go on living. The dog polluted tha air around him, and Lennie drew destruction to him. Neither could be allowed by reasonable men to go on living, and causing harm to those around him.
Only those who loved the dog, and the man, could feel the unfairness of such drastic punishment and want to go on allowing the victims' total innocle their judgment.
But George knew that Lennie had only moments to live, and like old Candy, he knew it was his job to kill him with as much mercy as possible; as much as Lennie would understand. So he tells him to look across the river and draws in his mind a word picture of the wonderful, peaceful reward that they both longed for - their own little house with many furry things for Lennie to care for. And as he described their future, as he had inumerable times before, he shot Lennie in the back of his head. He died inside the picture of the itenerant man's Utopia, with hope and joy in his big heart.
Only Slim understood what it had cost George, who would be haunted for the rest of his life - because Lennie would never lose his hold on him.