Over the years, Lennie and George have traveled California together looking for work. They share a dream of owning their very own piece of land and living off of its abundance, a dream that seems well within their grasp when they find a job at a ranch in the Salinas Valley. George worries that as close as they’re getting to obtaining the dream, Lennie will ruin things by accidentally getting in trouble like he did in his last job. Lennie, over-sized and slow-witted, loves petting soft things like mice and rabbits, but often kills them in his over zealous affection. He promises George that he won’t get them into trouble so that George will let him tend the rabbits at their dream farm. Most of all, Lennie promises he won’t fight Curley, the instigating ranch hand, and he won’t talk to Curley’s flirtatious wife who keeps hanging around. But these are promises that Lennie is unable to keep.
A Christian Perspective
Reading this story with a Christian lens, I was struck by the brotherly love George has for Lennie, a man whom George has no obligation to help. While George grumbles that things would be much easier if Lennie weren’t around, that he would be able to find work and have no trouble, he still chooses to take Lennie with him across the state. He knows Lennie has nobody else. Later in the story, George tells one of the ranch hands how he used to tease Lennie by telling him to do things that would hurt him, and how he would laugh when Lennie unflinchingly obeyed. But as time went on, he had pity for Lennie, and realized how vulnerable he was. Lennie needed someone to take care of him, and George stepped up. One could argue that George gains something from the relationship—camaraderie, and financial assistance in the land purchase—but George gives up much more by taking Lennie with him, having to run away from well paying jobs when Lennie causes a ruckus.
Reflecting on this sacrificial relationship, I asked myself if I would be willing to care for someone so sacrificially. If someone needed help, had nobody else, would I take responsibility or simply pass them along to someone who was more “qualified” to help? James 1:27 comes to mind, which says, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” While George doesn’t help Lennie in light of God’s love, and though Lennie isn’t an orphan or a widow, this verse speaks to their situation: Lennie is a vulnerable person in need and George provides guidance and friendship for him. This story is a beautiful picture of friendship and love that is genuine and sacrificial.
The ending of the book makes a Christian reading more controversial; how is George showing love through his actions, and was it his responsibility to take matters into his own hands? George wants to save Lennie from certain torture, and he believes that Lennie is his responsibility. Still, the delineation between right and wrong is very grey at the climax of this story.
Written by a secular author, this book is full of cursing and some innuendo. In addition, Steinbeck deals with some emotionally disturbing scenes which may not be suitable for younger readers.
Having read Of Mice and Men as a high schooler, I was eager to re-read the slim volume with the Christian lens. I was not disappointed. This story and reading forced me to ask some hard-hitting questions about love, friendship, and sacrifice, well worth the time and reflection.
What do you think?
What aspects of the Christian walk do you see or not see depicted in John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men? Are George’s actions at the end of the story justified? What have you learned about life from this story? Please comment below with your ideas and questions!