George, a ranch hand, is Lennie's caretaker. He is normally good-natured, but angers easily, especially if someone is threatening Lennie. George seeks the American Dream in the form of land where he and Lennie can live without having to answer to anyone. His life is unduly complicated by his role as Lennie’s protector, but he accepts his responsibility and appreciates Lennie’s companionship. He emphasizes the rare nature of his and Lennie’s friendship, explaining that “[g]uys like us, that work on ranches, are the loneliest guys in the world…. With us it ain’t like that” (15). Their relationship and their dream of a better future sets them apart from other ranch hands, but it also makes them vulnerable to violence and loss.
Lennie is described as “a huge man…[with] wide sloping shoulders” (2). The text implies that he is developmentally disabled. Lennie relies on George for his care, and he describes their friendship in the following terms: “I got you to look after me, and you got me to look after you” (15). He repeatedly asks George to tell him the story of their dream farm and expresses his desire to raise rabbits. Lennie’s love for soft animals demonstrates his gentle nature, but due to his enormous size and strength, he inadvertently harms animals and people. Ultimately, Lennie is vulnerable in a society that refuses to understand or accept him.
One of the oldest workers on the ranch, Candy lost one of his hands in a work related accident. His biggest fear is that he will outlive his usefulness, and he will be kicked off the ranch with no place to go. He expresses regret at the death of his sole companion, saying that “I shouldn’t ought to have let no stranger shoot my dog” (67). This possibly inspires George’s later decision to kill Lennie himself. After hearing about the piece of land that George and Lennie plan to buy, Candy offers to give them all of the money in his savings if they will let him live with them. This gives Candy something to hope for, though things do not go as planned.
This former sheepdog is incredibly old, with no teeth and advanced rheumatism. Carlson insists that keeping the dog alive is cruel, so Candy allows Carlson to shoot the dog in the back of the head. The death of Candy's dog foreshadows other events that eventually transpire in the story; additionally, this moment functions as commentary on society’s treatment of elderly and disabled individuals.
Curley is one of the main antagonists in the novel. As the Boss's son, Curley treats the ranch hands in a very condescending manner. Since he is a short man, Curley is angered and provoked by those who happen to be bigger than him, implying that he has to prove his own strength and superiority. Additionally, he brags about wearing a glove full of Vaseline to keep his hand soft for his new wife. Nearly all of the workers dislike him and poke fun at him behind his back. Curley attacks Lennie because he is jealous of Lennie's enormous stature, but he ends up having his hand crushed after Lennie squeezes it too hard. Curley is representative of land owners who hold power over those of a lower economic class.
She is the only female character who physically appears in the story. The unnamed wife of Curley is viewed with thinly-veiled disgust by the workers. The workers claim that she already has a wandering eye for other men, despite only being married a few weeks. It is implied that she constantly seeks out male attention to relieve her solitude. Like the male characters who are consumed by isolation, Curley's wife is both lonely and regretful. She says that she could have been in movies or magazines if she had not married Curley. It seems that she only married Curley to escape her domineering mother, who did not let her go to Hollywood. Ultimately, she is trapped by her circumstances and by societal expectations of women.
A quiet, observant man, Slim is portrayed as the true authority figure on the ranch. While the other workers listen to the boss and Curley because they have to, they listen to Slim because they respect him as a worker and as a person. He gently convinces Candy that it is time to give up his dog, and may be partially responsible for George's action at the end of the story. Slim is the only character on the ranch who understands the bond between Lennie and George.
Crooks is the only African-American on the ranch, and he has a crooked spine. Due to prejudice that he faces for his race and physical disability, Crooks lives by himself in the barn. He is described as proud and aloof, but readers learn that he acts this way due to aching loneliness. Crooks is secretly happy when Candy and Lennie come to visit him, and even allows himself to momentarily believe that he too will live on their little piece of land. However, after Curley’s wife threatens him, Crooks “reduce[s] himself to nothing....no personality, no ego” (89). This scene demonstrates that Crooks withdraws into himself as a form of defense against racist attacks. He realizes that even if George, Lennie, and Candy let him live with them, it would never really work out the way he wanted because of his extreme ostracism.
Carlson comes across as a bitter and self-centered man. He is the ranch hand who proposes the idea of killing Candy’s dog. He expresses society's view that the old and disabled are of no practical use and can easily be eliminated.
While Aunt Clara is not a physical character in the story, she serves as a powerful memory for both George and Lennie. She took Lennie in as a child, and on her deathbed asked George to look after Lennie for her.
The boss plays a very minor part in the story, only appearing in the first part of the book to interrogate George and Lennie when they arrive for their first day of work. He is curious about George always answering for Lennie and thinks that something suspicious is going on.
A ranch hand who had a minor part in the story.