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Chapter 2

Course Hero's video study guide provides in-depth summary and analysis of Chapter 2 of John Steinbeck's novel Of Mice and Men.

Of Mice and Men | Chapter 2 | Summary

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Summary

The bunkhouse at the ranch contains eight bunks, with an apple box above each bunk to hold the worker's paraphernalia. There is a cast-iron stove and a large table in the center of the room. An old worker named Candy, accompanied by his ancient sheepdog, leads George and Lennie into the room. Candy is missing his right hand. The boss arrives and asks George's and Lennie's names. The boss wonders why Lennie doesn't talk. George explains that his friend isn't smart but that he's "a good worker. Strong as a bull." Lennie repeats, "Strong as a bull." The boss suspects George is taking advantage of Lennie by stealing some of his pay. George vehemently denies it. Still suspicious, the boss leaves.

George reprimands Lennie for talking to the boss and then catches Candy listening at the door. Candy denies eavesdropping. The boss's son, a short, pugnacious young man named Curley, enters and asks where his father is. He then tries to talk to Lennie, who doesn't respond. George answers for Lennie, which annoys Curley. After Curley leaves, George wonders why he has a chip on his shoulder. Candy says that Curley is a skilled lightweight boxer who likes to pick fights with bigger guys. He then discloses that Curley is married to an attractive, flirtatious woman—a "tart." He adds that Curley wears a glove on his left hand filled with Vaseline to keep his hand soft for his wife. George is disgusted. Candy leaves, and George warns Lennie about Curley. "He was kinda feelin' you out. ... He's gonna take a sock at you the first chance he gets." Lennie says he doesn't want any trouble. George reminds him to hide by the pool if he gets in trouble, and Lennie says he'll remember.

While George and Lenny are talking, Curley's wife appears in the bunkhouse door. She is heavily made up and has hair "hung in little rolled clusters." She claims to be looking for Curley and positions her figure to show it off. Lennie notices her body. George brusquely replies that Curley isn't here. She answers in a playful manner and leaves. Lennie admits that she is pretty. George vehemently tells Lennie not to "even take a look at that bitch" because she's nothing but "jail bait." Lennie is shaken and says he doesn't like this place and wants to leave, but George insists they have to stay until they earn a stake.

Slim, the ranch's jerkline skinner (lead mule-team driver), arrives. He seems like a confident, understanding man who is respected by all the workers. After greeting George, Slim says his dog had pups. Another worker, Carlson, suggests that Slim tell Candy to shoot his old sheepdog because it's old and "stinks like hell, too." Then Slim can give Candy one of the pups. The workers head to dinner, leaving George and Lennie alone in the bunkhouse. Lennie is excited about the pups, and George agrees to ask Slim if Lennie can have one. As they leave for dinner, George admits he hates Curley and might "tangle with that bastard myself."

Analysis

Steinbeck continues to develop the character of George by showing that George has an edgy attitude toward authority. When he and Lennie arrive at the bunkhouse, George notices a can of insect repellent by his bunk and immediately suspects that his mattress is infested with bugs. He then says to Candy, "What the hell kind of bed you giving us, anyways." Candy assures George that the can was there because the prior occupant was a cleanliness fanatic who wanted to be absolutely sure his mattress was not infested. George's suspicions, though, show he probably has had problems with other ranchers trying to take advantage of him and isn't going to let it happen again.

Candy claims that the boss was expecting George and Lennie last night and was upset when they didn't arrive, but George doesn't seem bothered. The reader knows from the previous chapter that George and Lennie could have walked to the ranch the previous evening but that George didn't want to. He liked camping by the tranquil pool. George is a person who values his independence and does not mind annoying authority figures. George's hatred of Curley, the boss's son, confirms his strong dislike of people in authority trying to push others around.

Steinbeck develops the theme of entrapment by continuing to use strong foreshadowing. By introducing the supporting characters of Curley and Curley's wife, the author creates a situation with volatile dynamics. Curley is a bully who feels threatened by bigger guys and constantly wants to prove his manhood by fighting them. Lennie is a huge man who could prove to be an easy target for Curley. In addition, Curley's wife enjoys flirting blatantly with men, and Lennie thinks she's pretty. If Curley's wife flirts with Lennie, it might be all the inducement Curley needs to become enraged and fight Lennie. George tells Lennie to stay out of Curley's way but to fight back if Curley punches him. By using these dynamics, Steinbeck foreshadows a conflict that could entrap George and Lennie. George is aware of this threat. He even calls Curley's wife a "rattrap." George, however, feels compelled to stay at the ranch so he and Lennie can earn a stake: "We can't help it, Lennie. We'll get out jus' as soon as we can."

Readers may also notice the development of several symbols that will appear throughout the book. The first of these is the pool. For George and Lennie, the pool represents a safe haven, a place to seek out to protect themselves from the dangers of the world. When George fears that trouble might develop, he tells Lennie to "hide in the brush by the river." Vulnerable animals, like bunnies and puppies, are another symbol explored in Chapter 2. They represent the vulnerable creatures that Lennie loves but can also accidentally harm. Steinbeck also introduces Candy's dog as a symbol that will be developed further in the novel. Toothless, almost blind, and smelly, the dog is no longer useful, but Candy loves him dearly. The idea that the dog should be spared any more suffering, rather than kept alive just so Candy has a companion, will become relevant to George's heartbreaking decision to kill Lennie.

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