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Chapter 5

Course Hero's video study guide provides in-depth summary and analysis of Chapter 5 of John Steinbeck's novel Of Mice and Men.

Of Mice and Men | Chapter 5 | Summary

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Summary

Alone in the barn, Lennie looks sadly at a dead puppy lying before him. Lennie has accidentally killed the puppy and fears George will find out and not let him tend rabbits. He covers the puppy with hay in an attempt to hide it. Then he unburies the animal and strokes it. "I di'n't know you'd get killed so easy," he says. Curley's wife enters the barn. She wears heavy makeup and has styled her hair into "little sausage curls." Curley's wife is startled when she sees the dead puppy. Lennie admits he accidentally killed the animal, and she tells him not to worry about it. But when she tries to talk to Lennie, he rebuffs her, saying, "If George sees me talkin' to you he'll give me hell." Curley's wife gets angry because nobody wants to talk to her. She tells Lennie that she once had opportunities to join a traveling theater group and go to Hollywood. She doesn't like her husband, because "he ain't a nice fella." Lennie listens and then talks more about tending rabbits.

Curley's wife asks Lennie why he's so "nuts" about looking after rabbits. After pondering the question, Lennie admits he likes to touch soft things. She says most people do. She then places Lennie's hand on her hair and says, "Feel right aroun' there an' see how soft it is." Lennie strokes her hair and says that it feels nice. Curley's wife tells Lennie not to mess up her hair. When he keeps stroking it, she gets angry and jerks her head. Lennie panics and clutches her hair. As she struggles to get loose, Lennie places his hand over her mouth and begs her not to scream. She continues to struggle violently. Lennie pleads, "Please don't do none of that," as he is worried that George won't let him tend rabbits. When she tries to yell, Lennie gets angry and shakes her, breaking her neck. She is still, and Lennie realizes he has accidentally killed her. Lennie knows he's "done a real bad thing" and decides to run off and hide by the pool.

Candy comes in, sees Curley's wife, and realizes she's dead. Stunned, he leaves and returns with George, who immediately knows that Lennie killed her. Candy claims that Curley will want to lynch Lennie. George thinks for a while and then agrees. Candy asks if their dream of getting a small farm has been destroyed, and George replies that it has. Afraid of being suspected as an accomplice in the killing, George leaves, and Candy remains with the body. After a few minutes, Candy brings Curley, Slim, and other workers into the barn. George arrives last. When Curley realizes Lennie killed his wife, he becomes enraged and says, "I'll kill the big son-of-a-bitch myself." He goes off with some of the men to organize a lynch mob, leaving Slim and George in the barn. George wonders if they could just lock Lennie up and not kill him. Slim is doubtful of this and says that even if they "lock him up an' strap him down ... that ain't no good, George." George agrees. Carlson comes back and claims his gun has been stolen. Curley hurries in and suspiciously asks George if he is coming with the lynch mob. George replies that he is. George, Curley, Slim, and the others leave the barn. Candy remains with Curley's dead wife.

Analysis

In Chapter 5, Steinbeck brings the theme of entrapment to a climax through the interaction between Lennie and Curley's wife and the symbol of the vulnerable soft animal. Lennie and Curley's wife are brought together in the barn because of their loneliness and need for friendship and affection. In an example of situational irony, the result of pursuing these needs is death. Lennie accidentally kills a puppy because he likes the feeling of petting it. When the puppy nips at him, he cuffs the animal and, because of his strength, kills it. Therefore, Lennie's need for affection results in death, which foreshadows what is about to happen with Curley's wife. Lennie most likely feels lonely without the connection of touching a soft animal. For example, when Lennie first gets a puppy, George predicts Lennie will sleep next to the animal in the barn for companionship. Curley's wife wants to talk to Lennie because she's also lonely and desires friendship and affection. She even invites him to touch her hair. Lennie strokes her hair and gets a pleasant sensation of affection. Not realizing the danger that lurks with Lennie, Curley's wife gets upset when he strokes her hair too hard and tries to break loose of his grasp. He scolds her and shakes her, just as he cuffed the puppy earlier. In this case, the result is the death of Curley's wife.

Later in the chapter, the entrapment of Lennie and George is sealed. Curley is still angry at Lennie for crushing his hand. When he finds out that Lennie killed his wife, he predictably becomes enraged and plans to "shoot the guts outa that big bastard." Because of this, the likelihood of Lennie being arrested is slim. Even if Lennie is arrested, society's treatment of the mentally handicapped at that time ensures that Lennie will be dealt with severely. The authorities will "put him in a cage." George understands that such a fate for Lennie would be worse than death.

If Lennie is killed or imprisoned, George could theoretically continue to work and save money and buy the small farm with Candy. Here is where the psychological dynamics come into play. After George realizes what Lennie has done, Candy asks George if they will still buy a small farm. George replies that he will fall back into the behavior of most migrant workers—that is, earning 50 dollars and then spending it on prostitutes or playing pool. As a result, he will be unable to save the money to buy their farm. For George, his friendship with Lennie provided motivation to break with the system and obtain land. When Lennie is gone, George's motivation disappears, and so too does his dream.

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