That evening, after dinner and barley bucking in the fields, George and Slim return to the bunk house and sit together at the card table while the rest of the laborers enjoy a horseshoe game outside. George thanks Slim for giving Lennie one of the new puppies, and says Lennie is probably so excited about his new pet that he’ll want to sleep in the barn with the litter. Slim says he was happy to give Lennie a pup, and remarks on how strong and hardworking Lennie is.
Whereas the boss and Curley are skeptical of the arrangement George and Lennie have, Slim seems touched by their friendship. He likes Lennie and wants to help him feel welcome, suggesting that he, too, yearns for genuine connection amidst the hostility of life on the ranch.
Slim remarks how strange it is to see two men traveling and working alongside each other like George and the “cuckoo” Lennie do. George remarks that he himself isn’t so bright, either, and that he and Lenny need each other. He explains that they were both born in Auburn. Lennie’s Aunt Clara took him in when he was a baby and raised him as her own. After Aunt Clara died, George explains, Lennie started working with George, and they “got kinda used to each other.” George admits that he used to play jokes and pranks on Lennie, enjoying how Lennie’s slowness “made [him] seem God damn smart”—but after one of his pranks nearly resulted in Lennie’s death, George resolved never to mess with him again.
While it seems like Lennie is the one entirely dependent on George for support and survival, this passage makes it clear that George feels, at times, just as in need of Lennie as Lennie is of him. He’s become Lennie’s protector—but Lennie has also served to protect George from his darker impulses. Their relationship challenges societal ideas at the time about what makes someone weak, and what makes someone strong.
George begins playing solitaire. He confesses to Slim that he doesn’t want to get rid of Lennie and go around alone like most ranch workers, even though Lennie is a “nuisance” who often gets them in trouble. George begins telling him the story of what happened in Weed—the story of how Lennie got them run out of town after he seized a girl’s soft dress. The girl told the police she’d been raped, and a band of local men tried to hunt Lennie down to punish him. Lennie and George hid out in an irrigation ditch until nightfall—at which point they “scrammed” and didn’t look back. George insists Lennie would never have hurt the woman—he only wanted to touch her dress, just as he longs now to pet mice and puppies.
Even though Lennie’s preoccupation with stroking soft things seems odd to other people, George understands it, and knows that Lennie truly doesn’t have any other nefarious desires in mind, contrary to how things might look. George knows he needs to defend Lennie against people who misunderstand him and would seek to alienate, harm, or even kill him for his off-kilter obsessions.
Lennie comes into the bunk house, breathless with joy over his new puppy, and lies down on his bed. George tells him he’s not allowed to have the puppy in the bunk house. Lennie insists he doesn’t have the pup, but George approaches Lennie and wrestles the puppy out of his arms. George warns Lennie that he’ll kill the puppy if he keeps it from his mother, and threatens to have Slim take the puppy away again if Lennie doesn’t treat it right. Lennie takes the puppy back and hurries to return it to the barn. Slim remarks that Lennie is just like a child. George agrees and says that while, like a child, Lennie doesn’t want to do any harm, the problem is his immense strength.
Protecting Lennie from others isn’t the extent of George’s duties to his friend—this passage makes it clear that George must also protect Lennie from himself. George knows that Lennie doesn’t understand his own strength, and might hurt himself or the things he loves if left to his own devices.
Candy comes into the bunk house, his old dog trailing behind him. Carlson, another laborer, comes into the bunk house, lamenting at having lost at horseshoes to the black stable hand. Carlson sniffs the air and urges Candy to get his stinking dog out of the bunk house. Candy says he’s around the dog so much he doesn’t notice the smell. Carlson suggests Candy put the dog out of his misery and shoot him—if Candy aims “right in the back of the head,” he says, the dog won’t know feel pain. Candy says he could never do such a thing—he’s had the dog too long and is too “used to him.” Carlson retorts that Candy is being unkind to the dog by keeping him alive.
Slim offers to give Candy a new pup from his bitch’s litter if Candy shoots his old dog. Candy says he’s worried about hurting the dog. Carlson promises that if Candy lets him shoot the dog, he’ll hit it right in the back of the head and make sure it feels no pain. Candy’s face is tight and tense as he considers what he should do.
This passage foreshadows and in a way ultimately dictates what will soon happen between George and Lennie. George will have to dispatch Lennie for both their sakes, and he will take a lesson from Carlson in the specifics of how to do it and the ethics behind it.
Another laborer named Whit comes in and brings Slim a magazine to read. There is a letter inside by Bill Tenner, a laborer who used to work on the ranch. Carlson refuses to be distracted by Whit’s remembrances of Tenner, and continues hounding Candy about putting down his dog. Carlson offers to shoot it with his Luger. Though Candy suggests they wait until tomorrow, Carlson insists on doing the deed now. Candy at last relents, lying down on his bunk and staring at the ceiling. Carlson leads the dog outside, and Slim calls after him, reminding him to “take a shovel.”
This passage continues the parallel between Candy’s relationship with his dog and George’s relationship with Lennie. Carlson’s insistence that the deed be done now implies that while distractions may pop up or George may try to avoid dealing with Lennie, he will eventually have to cut ties with Lennie in order to survive.
The room falls silent, and Slim tries to make conversation to ease the morbid mood. He talks about his mule, who’s in need of some tar on its hoof, and reminds Candy that he can have any puppy he wants. Candy does not reply. George asks if anyone wants to play some euchre, and Whit says he’ll play. After he sits down at the table, though, he and George simply sit in silence. It is so quiet that the men can hear a scratching beneath the floorboards—a rat. Whit orders George to shuffle the cards and deal. As George does so, the men hear a single shot ring out. Everyone looks at Candy, who rolls over and faces the wall.
Even though George tries to distract from the solemn mood in the bunk house and make some noise to drown out the noise of what’s happening outside, this passage shows, once again, that there’s no turning away from the truth of what has to be done in such dire circumstances.
The door opens, and the stable hand peeks his head into the room. Slim greets the man as “Crooks,” and asks him what the matter is. Crooks replies that he has some tar ready for Slim’s mule’s foot. Slim stands up and says he’ll come take care of it. Crooks warns Slim that the “big new guy” is “messin’ around” with the puppies. George tells Slim to kick Lennie out of the barn if he’s making trouble.
Crooks is perhaps so worried about Lennie being in the barn because the stable is the one place where Crooks—the most marginalized and unfairly-treated person on the ranch—feels in control. He doesn’t want Lennie threatening his space or getting him in trouble, although Lennie’s intentions are naïvely innocent.
After Slim and Crooks leave, Whit makes small talk with George about Curley’s wife, remarking on how “she got the eye goin’ all the time.” Whit admits that though there hasn’t been any real trouble with her yet, it’s clear to everyone that “she can’t keep away from guys”—and Curley is anxious about it. George agrees that the girl sounds like trouble. Whit invites George to come with him and the other men to a whorehouse the following night, which is a Saturday. He assures him it’s a “clean” place where the prices are good and there’s always fun to be had. George says he might tag along, but is planning on saving his money so that he and Lennie can buy some land.
Whit clearly loves drama—and women. Though George tells Whit he’s trying to save money, focus on the future, and ignore distractions like whorehouses and billiard halls, Whit represents the temptation that threatens to derail George and Lennie’s plans.
Lennie and Carlson come into the bunk house together. Lennie gets into bed, and Carlson begins cleaning his pistol. Curley bursts in, asking for his wife. Whit says she hasn’t come by. Curley looks around the room and asks where Slim is. George says he’s at the barn, tending to his mule’s hoof. Curley blusters away. Whit says he hopes Curley won't go after Slim, but at the same time, wouldn’t put it past him. Whit and Carlson decide to go over to the barn and see if the two men will fight one another.
Whit and Carlson are just as quick to suspicion and anger as Curley. They want to see blood—someone else getting beat up and scapegoated means that they are safe in the dog-eat-dog world of the ranch for a little while longer.
George asks Lennie why he’s come back from the barn, and Lennie says Slim told him that petting the puppies too much wouldn’t be good for them. George asks if Curley’s wife went by the barn, and Lennie says she didn’t. George again reminds Lennie to stay out of any fights he does happen to hear about or witness. George remarks on how much trouble a “tart” can make, and tells Lennie that one of their old friends from grammar school, Andy Cushman, is in prison now “on account of a tart.”
George is just as willing as the other men on the ranch to make a scapegoat out of Curley’s wife rather than consider why the men on the ranch are unable to control themselves around her. It’s clear that, as the only woman on the ranch, she is marginalized and judged as being promiscuous merely because she wants attention.
Lennie asks George how long it will be until they get their piece of land. George says he doesn’t know—he’s heard of a place, but even though it’s relatively cheap, they still have a lot of saving to do. Lennie asks George to tell him about the place. George protests that he just told Lennie about it last night, but Lennie asks to hear about it again. George relents, and again tells Lennie a romantic story about the lush, fertile farm they’ll live on. They’ll plant alfalfa, harvest an orchard, and raise rabbits. As George goes deeper and deeper into detail about the imagined place, he gets lost in his own reverie.
Even though George uses his stories about the hypothetical farm he and Lennie will move to largely placate and distract Lennie, he can’t help believing that one day they’ll come true. He is usually able to resist getting to swept up in his own stories, such as when he pulled himself out of the reverie back at the river—but tonight, he needs the fantasy just as much as Lennie does.
Lennie continues focusing intensely on the fantasy of raising—and petting—as many rabbits as he wants. Both Lennie and George are so lost in their reverie that when Candy speaks, they both jump. Candy asks if there really is a place like the one George is describing—George insists there is, and that it could be his for $600. Candy states that he has $300 saved up from the accident that took his hand, and would be happy to go in with George and Lennie on the property. In exchange, he says, he’d cook, tend chickens, and work in the garden.
George and Lennie have been alone in their fantasy for so long that when a third person expresses interest in joining them, it’s destabilizing. It makes the fantasy more real—which is just as frightening as it is motivating and exciting, since Candy’s expectations and investment will force George and Lennie to make concrete plans rather than continuing to aimlessly dream.
George is skeptical of Candy’s offer, and says he’d always conceived of himself and Lennie working the farm on their own. Still, as he begins doing the math, he realizes that he and Lennie will be able to get their place sooner with Candy’s contribution. George becomes excited and emotional. He continues daydreaming aloud, lost in thoughts of being able to be the master of his own destiny and do whatever he wants whenever he wants. As the other men’s voices can be heard approaching the bunk house, George asks Lennie and Candy to keep their plan a secret. Candy agrees, and solemnly remarks that he should have been the one to shoot his own dog.
George perhaps never let himself really believe the farm was something he and Lennie could ever achieve—but now, with Candy on their side, George lets himself indulge the dream a little more seriously for the first time in his life. In spite of George and Lennie’s excitement, Candy remains disturbed by what he’s done to his dog, foreshadowing that George and Lennie will still have to face unpleasantness and strife even in the face of their new lease on life.
Slim, Curley, Carlson, and Whit all enter the bunk house. Slim and Curley are arguing—Slim says he’s sick of Curley constantly asking him about his own wife’s whereabouts. Carlson urges Curley to get control of his wife before he has trouble on his hands. Curley threatens to fight Carlson, but Carlson accuses Curley of being “yella.” As tensions between the three men escalate, George realizes with a horror that Lennie is smiling and laughing—still lost in thoughts of their little plot of land. Curley notices Lennie’s smile and challenges him to a fight. As Curley begins hitting Lennie, Lennie keeps his hands at his sides, paralyzed with fear and unwilling to even defend himself.
Even when provoked, Lennie refuses to fight back. He is the opposite of Curley in every way, but most notably in terms of his temperament. Lennie could crush Curley—but his gentle demeanor, fear of trouble, and childlike mindset mean that he tries to avoid violence at any cost. Curley, on the other hand, has no problem victimizing and scapegoating Lennie in order to release his own frustrations.
George, angered by Curley’s attack on the vulnerable Lennie, urges Lennie to fight back. As Curley reaches a fist back and swings at Lennie, Lennie catches Curley’s fist in one of his hands and begins crushing it. Curley starts crying in pain, but Lennie doesn’t let go until George tells him to. Slim and Carlson stand over Curley, and remark that they need to get him to a doctor—it hardly looks like he has a single bone in his hand left intact. Lennie cries, stating that he didn’t want to hurt Curley. Slim urges Curley to tell the boss, when asked what happened to his hand, that he got it caught in a machine. Slim warns Curley that there will be consequences if he tells the truth. Curley promises he won’t try to get Lennie or George fired.
This passage shows that in spite of Lennie’s reluctance to use it, he is in possession of immense physical strength. When he focuses it on something, he becomes powerful and even dangerous. Even in the face of this realization, the other men remain on Lennie’s side and threaten Curley with further pain and retaliation if he tries to make things worse for the poor Lennie.
Carlson takes Curley away to go to the doctor in town. George tells Lennie to wash his bloody face. Lennie asks George if he’s in trouble, and whether he’ll still be allowed to tend the rabbits. George assures Lennie that he’s done nothing wrong.
This passage shows how truly reluctant Lennie is to resort to violence of any kind for fear of upsetting George—or of revealing that he is, in fact, too strong and powerful to gently tend rabbits.