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Of Mice and Men

John Steinbeck

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Chapter 3

Course Hero's video study guide provides in-depth summary and analysis of Chapter 3 of John Steinbeck's novel Of Mice and Men.

Of Mice and Men | Chapter 3 | Summary



In the bunkhouse, George thanks Slim for giving Lennie one of his pups. George then explains to Slim that a woman named Aunt Clara used to care for Lennie. After she died, George and Lennie began to work together. Eventually a friendship developed. George then confesses that Lennie got in trouble at their previous job when he wanted to feel a dress that a girl was wearing. The girl panicked and claimed that Lennie tried to rape her. George and Lennie escaped when a lynch party came after Lennie. Slim seems understanding and says that Lennie "ain't mean."

Lennie comes in hiding a puppy under his coat. George orders him to return the puppy to the litter in the barn, and Lennie reluctantly obeys. Candy enters accompanied by his old dog. Carlson soon follows and again complains that the dog isn't useful and has a stink that "hangs around even after he's gone." He tries to convince Candy to shoot it. When Candy says he can't, Carlson offers to shoot the dog himself. Slim agrees with Carlson, and Candy sadly gives in. Carlson gets his Luger pistol and leads the dog out of the bunkhouse. George, Slim, and the other men in the bunkhouse anxiously wait in silence until, finally, they hear the shot. Crooks, an African American stable hand with a crooked back, informs Slim that Lennie is petting the pups in the barn. Slim says that Lennie isn't doing any harm and heads with Crooks to the barn to tar a mule's foot.

Lennie enters and sits on his bunk. Curley bursts into the bunkhouse searching for his wife. He wonders where Slim is. When he's told that Slim is in the barn, Curley rushes out. Whit and Carlson follow him to watch a possible fight between Curley and Slim. George stays back in the bunkhouse, saying, "I don't want to get mixed up in nothing." With Lennie's prompting, George again describes their dream house and farm. Candy gets interested and asks if this farm is a real place. George says it is, and it costs 600 dollars. Candy asks if he might live there with George and Lennie and offers to chip in a partial payment of 350 dollars, along with whatever money George and Lennie can supply. George agrees. Suddenly, George and Lennie realize their dream could become a reality.

Slim comes into the bunkhouse, followed by Curley, Carlson, and Whit. Curley is apologizing to Slim, saying he was just wondering where his wife was. Slim is angry because Curley suspected him of being with his wife. Carlson tells Curley to keep track of his wife and tell her to stop hanging around the bunkhouse. Curley turns on Carlson, but Carlson will have none of his threats. Curley then notices Lennie, who is still smiling as he thinks about getting a farm with rabbits. Curley thinks Lennie is laughing at him, so he begins to punch Lennie in the face. Confused and horrified, Lennie backs against the wall and looks to George for help. George yells for Lennie to fight back. Lennie then seizes Curley's fist, and "the next minute Curley was flopping like a fish on a line." George orders Lennie to let go, and he eventually does. Curley is in extreme pain, and his hand has been crushed. Slim orders the wagon to be hitched up to take Curley into town to the doctor. Lennie is worried that he did something wrong, but George assures him that he didn't.


Steinbeck returns to the theme of loneliness and friendship in Chapter 3. In the first two chapters, George is depicted as a tight-lipped man who doesn't like to talk much about Lennie and himself. In fact, when the boss asks about their relationship, George lies and says Lennie is his cousin. In Chapter 3, however, George opens up to Slim and readily explains how Lennie became his friend. George is comfortable around Slim and feels he can trust him, undoubtedly because of Slim's calm and understanding attitude. George obviously values and is moved by friendship. This trait is reinforced when George tells Slim that he used to tease Lennie, making him do silly things. Despite this, Lennie never became angry. In fact, when George told Lennie to jump in a river, Lennie obeyed and almost drowned. Instead of being angry, Lennie was grateful to George for pulling him out. Lennie's friendliness disarmed George. Soon, George realized he had something of extreme value with Lennie. George had seen migrant workers living alone for a long time. "That ain't no good ... after a long time they get mean," he says. From George's discussion with Slim, the reader comes to understand that George believes his friendship with Lennie will prevent him from getting mean and bitter.

Steinbeck also shows how the fear of loneliness haunts Candy. Candy realizes that when he can't sweep the bunkhouse anymore, the boss will fire him. "I won't have no place to go," Candy says. His sense of loneliness and uselessness makes him "wisht somebody'd shoot me" like Carlson shot his dog. But when Candy is able to share Lennie and George's dream of getting a small farm, Candy gets a sense of belonging and being valued as a friend. The author also uses strong foreshadowing through the killing of Candy's dog. Because the dog can no longer do its job and annoys workers at the ranch with its stink, it is shot. The decision spares the old dog from suffering any further pain, but the workers' motives for killing it may have less to do with kindness than with the harshness of the world in which they live. The same rationale will apply to Lennie later in the novel.

In Chapter 3, the theme of entrapment is developed like a gradually tightening noose. Once again, George realizes the conflict with Curley and his wife is dangerous. George refers to the wife as "jail bait all set on the trigger." If George and Lennie get sucked into this conflict, they could easily get arrested, and their dream would be destroyed. The noose begins to tighten when Curley frantically searches for his wife and jealously suspects her of being with Slim. Curley's suspicions end up making him look like a fool in the eyes of Slim and the other workers. Unable to accept this humiliation, Curley looks for a scapegoat and picks on Lennie. As Curley punches Lennie, George adds fuel to the flames by telling Lennie to fight back. The result is that Lennie crushes Curley's hand. The noose has tightened around George and Lennie. Lennie could easily get fired or arrested. Slim, though, gets Lennie and George out of the trap. He tells Curley that if he tries to get Lennie fired, he will tell everyone about what happened and "then will you get the laugh." Curley agrees to say he got his hand caught in a machine.

Steinbeck uses situational irony when Lennie and George describe their dream of getting a small farm. Irony occurs when a situation is strange or surprising because things happen in a way that is the opposite of what is expected. The dream of getting the small farm provides Lennie and George with the hope of freedom. The desire to achieve this dream, however, keeps them working at the ranch to earn a stake, thereby exposing them to a dangerous situation that could get them arrested and limit their freedom.

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