Exploring What Does Lennie Symbolize: Analysis of John Steinbeck’s Classic Novella ‘Of Mice and Men’

If you’ve ever read John Steinbeck’s literary masterpiece, Of Mice and Men, then you know who Lennie Small is. He’s the towering figure with a childlike mentality and a strong obsession with petting soft objects such as mice, rabbits, and perhaps the softest object of all, a puppy. To some, Lennie might come across as an innocent being, but as the story progresses, it becomes evident that he’s symbolic of something much more complex.

In some ways, Lennie Small epitomizes the dualistic nature of the human psyche. When we look at him, we see a man who’s physically robust enough to snap a person’s neck like a twig. But at the same time, he harbors an innocent and compassionate spirit, which craves nothing more than the comfort and affection of those around him. The irony in Steinbeck’s portrayal of Lennie is that the people who should have been offering him compassion and understanding are often the same individuals causing him harm.

Lennie’s character is also symbolic of the rejection and isolation faced by those who are different. He’s frequently confounded and misunderstood by the people around him, who often dismiss him on account of his mental and physical abilities. Despite initially being welcomed by George, his companion and only ally, Lennie is never given the opportunity to truly integrate into society, and in the end, it’s his difference that ultimately leads to his tragic demise.

Innocence and Childlike Simplicity

Lennie Small in John Steinbeck’s classic novel, Of Mice and Men, is often identified as a symbol of innocence and childlike simplicity. Despite his massive stature and intimidating presence, Lennie possesses a tender and pure heart. He is vulnerable, as he struggles to understand the complexities of the world around him.

Throughout the novel, Lennie’s innocence is repeatedly contrasted with the cruelty and harshness of the world he inhabits. His childlike simplicity is often admired by the other characters, yet also exploited and taken advantage of. Lennie’s character is a reminder to the reader of the good that can be found in the world, despite its many challenges and hardships.

  • Lennie’s innocence is evident in his fascination with small animals
  • He is gentle and caring towards those who are weaker than him
  • Lennie does not intentionally cause harm or trouble, but his strength sometimes results in disastrous consequences

Lennie’s character is a poignant reminder of the vulnerability and fragility of innocence. His simplicity is a refreshing contrast to the harsh and bitter realities depicted in the novel, making him a beloved and enduring character in literary history.

Physical Strength and Size

One of the defining characteristics of Lennie Small in John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men is his immense physical strength and size. Despite his mental limitations, Lennie is described as having “paws” for hands and the ability to perform feats of strength that make him a valuable asset to the ranch where he and his friend George work. However, this strength also makes him a liability and ultimately leads to his tragic downfall.

  • Lennie’s strong build is a symbol of his power and dominance over others. Yet, his childish mentality and lack of awareness of his own strength make him incapable of controlling it, leading to accidents and ultimately, tragedy.
  • While Lennie’s size and strength are assets in physical labor, they also lead to him being ostracized and underestimated by others. His size makes him appear intimidating, but his gentle nature makes him vulnerable to exploitation and mistreatment.
  • Lennie’s physical strength and size are a reflection of his role as a protector and caretaker for his friend George. Despite his limitations, Lennie is fiercely loyal and protective of George, and his physical strength allows him to defend George when needed.

It is worth noting that Lennie’s size and strength are not just symbolic, but also key factors in the plot of the novel. The final act of the story is set in motion by Lennie’s accidental killing of Curley’s wife. His inability to control his strength and his fear of the consequences lead to him inadvertently causing harm and ultimately being killed by George to spare him from a worse fate.

SymbolismExamples from the Text
Strength and dominance“I seen the guys that go around on the ranches alone. That ain’t no good. They don’t have no fun. After a long time they get mean. They get wantin’ to fight all the time.”
Vulnerability and exploitation“They’ll take ya to the booby hatch. They’ll tie ya up with a collar, like a dog.”
Protection and loyalty“You gonna be sick like you was last night.”

In conclusion, Lennie Small’s physical strength and size represent both his power and vulnerability as a character. While his immense strength allows him to perform difficult physical labor and defend those he cares about, it also leads to his unintentional harm of those around him. Steinbeck expertly weaves this symbolism throughout the novel, making Lennie’s size and strength a key factor in his character development and ultimately, his tragic demise.

Dependence on George

One of the most significant themes in John Steinbeck’s classic novel “Of Mice and Men” is dependence. Lennie, one of the main characters, is heavily dependent on his friend and companion George. This dependence symbolizes a much larger theme of the novel, which is the vulnerability of individuals in a society that does not care for them.

  • Lennie’s immense size makes it difficult for him to navigate the world without George’s guidance and protection.
  • He relies on George to tell him what to do and where to go, which highlights his lack of autonomy and dependence on others.
  • Through Lennie’s character, Steinbeck portrays the heartbreaking reality that many people face: being entirely dependent on others for survival.

What makes Lennie’s dependence on George particularly interesting is that George is not a traditionally powerful character. He is a small man who is not particularly physically imposing, but he possesses a fierce determination to protect Lennie and keep him safe.

Throughout the book, George’s caretaking role becomes more and more cumbersome, and it is evident that he is both frustrated and exhausted by it. However, he continues to protect Lennie and support him even when other characters in the book give up on him.

“I want you to stay with me, Lennie. Jesus Christ, somebody’d shoot you for a coyote if you was by yourself. No, you stay with me.” – George to LennieIn this quote, George acknowledges the danger that Lennie would face without his protection, highlighting the harsh reality of the world they live in.
“I think I knowed from the very first. I think I knowed we’d never do her. He usta like to hear about it so much I got to thinking maybe we would.” – George to SlimHere, George admits that he knew from the beginning that the dream of owning a farm together was unrealistic. However, he still allowed Lennie to hold onto the dream because it brought him joy. This once again highlights George’s role as Lennie’s protector and caretaker.

Lennie’s dependence on George serves as a powerful symbol for the larger theme of the book, which is the desperate need for human connection and protection. Through Lennie’s character, Steinbeck highlights the challenges that vulnerable individuals face in a society that often overlooks and neglects them.

Mental Disabilities and Challenges

Throughout the novel Of Mice and Men, Lennie symbolizes individuals with mental disabilities and challenges. His character portrays the struggles that individuals with such disabilities face and highlights the importance of treating them with compassion and understanding.

  • Lack of comprehension: Lennie’s inability to understand social cues and use language properly is a common trait among individuals with mental disabilities. This can be frustrating and isolating for them as they struggle to communicate and form meaningful connections with others.
  • Aggression: Due to their difficulties in processing and expressing emotions, individuals with mental disabilities can often have outbursts of aggression. Lennie’s tendency towards violence is a tragic example of this and highlights the importance of providing proper support and care for individuals with mental challenges to prevent harmful behavior.
  • Vulnerability: Lennie’s childlike innocence and lack of awareness make him vulnerable to predatory individuals who wish to take advantage of him. This vulnerability is a common issue for many individuals with mental disabilities and further emphasizes the need for societal compassion and protection.

The following table outlines some common mental disabilities and challenges that individuals may face:

Autism Spectrum DisorderDifficulty with social interaction, communication, and repetitive behaviors
Down SyndromeDelayed physical and cognitive development, distinctive facial features
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity DisorderInattention, hyperactivity, impulsivity, difficulty focusing

Individuals with mental disabilities and challenges face unique obstacles in their lives, making it important for society to address their needs and provide support. Of Mice and Men is a powerful reminder of the value and significance of treating all individuals with compassion and respect.

Desire for Companionship and Love

Lennie Small symbolizes the yearning for companionship and love. This is clear in his constant desire to remain close to George, his best friend and protector. Lennie demonstrates that he is willing to do anything to have someone by his side – even if it means blindly following George’s lead, regardless of the danger it poses.

  • Throughout the novel, Lennie’s innocent and child-like behavior is a result of his lack of emotional development, leaving him reliant on George to provide him with social support.
  • Additionally, his infatuation towards soft-textured materials like mice, rabbits, and the infamous dress, highlight his need for something to connect to emotionally.
  • Steinbeck uses Lennie’s character as a way of emphasizing the importance of companionship and how pivotal it is for anyone, no matter how innocent, to have someone to rely on.

Moreover, the role of Lennie’s relationship with George carries a sentimental value as it shows true friendship that consists of mutually sacrificing for one another in case of adversity.

In conclusion, Lennie represents the meaning of friendship, the longing for companionship, and the desire for love. Steinbeck’s overall message is that everyone needs someone in their life to provide emotional support, and this is exemplified through Lennie’s character.

Misunderstood and mistreated by society

Lennie, one of the main characters in John Steinbeck’s novel, Of Mice and Men, is often misunderstood and mistreated by society. Throughout the novel, it becomes clear that Lennie’s mental disability has made him vulnerable to the judgement and cruelty of others.

Despite Lennie’s childlike innocence and good intentions, he is often seen as a burden and a danger to himself and those around him. This is especially evident in the way that George, Lennie’s closest friend, tries to protect and control him. George is constantly urging Lennie to keep quiet and stay out of trouble, fearing that he will inadvertently cause harm or attract unwanted attention.

  • Due to his disability, Lennie is unable to fully understand the consequences of his actions.
  • He unintentionally causes harm to others, such as when he accidentally kills Curley’s wife.
  • Lennie’s size and strength also make him a target for those who seek to exploit or harm him.

Despite the challenges that Lennie faces, he remains a symbol of innocence and vulnerability in the novel. His mistreatment at the hands of others highlights the harsh realities of a society that values strength and independence over kindness and compassion.

It is also worth noting that Lennie’s mistreatment is not limited to those outside of his immediate circle. Even George, who cares for Lennie deeply, sees him as a source of frustration and worry at times. This speaks to the larger societal attitudes towards those with disabilities, who are often seen as a burden rather than a valuable member of the community.

Factors Contributing to Lennie’s Mistreatment
Lack of understanding and acceptance of disabilities
Emphasis on self-sufficiency and independence
Socioeconomic factors, such as poverty and limited access to resources for those with disabilities

In conclusion, Lennie’s portrayal in Of Mice and Men highlights the mistreatment and misunderstandings that those with disabilities often face in society. Through his character, Steinbeck reminds us of the importance of empathy and compassion towards the most vulnerable members of our communities.

Foreshadowing of Tragic Events

John Steinbeck’s classic novel, Of Mice and Men, is known for its powerful themes and intricate symbolism. One of the central characters and symbols, Lennie Small, represents the tragedy that pervades the novel from beginning to end. With his immense strength and childlike innocence, Lennie embodies the destructive forces of fate and the inevitability of tragedy.

The novel is rife with foreshadowing, and Lennie’s character serves as the fulcrum for the unfolding tragedy. Throughout the story, several key events and symbols point to Lennie’s ultimate fate, highlighting the inevitability of tragedy and making it all the more poignant when it finally arrives. One of the most striking examples of foreshadowing occurs through the use of the number seven.

  • Seven is a recurring number throughout the novel, appearing in significant places like the number of the bunkhouse in which Lennie and George sleep, the number of puppies in the litter Lennie takes care of, and the number of shots Candy has left in his gun.
  • Seven’s significance lies in its representation of luck and purity, as well as its association with divinity and completeness. However, in the context of Of Mice and Men, seven also represents looming tragedy and inevitable downfall.
  • The use of the number seven serves to highlight Lennie’s inherent predisposition towards tragedy and foreshadows his ultimate fate. Like the number seven, Lennie is innocent and pure, yet also harbors a destructive force that ultimately leads to his downfall.

The use of the number seven serves to illustrate the novel’s tragic themes while also hinting at the inevitable path of destruction for Lennie. By utilizing this symbol so powerfully, Steinbeck creates a sense of tragedy and tension throughout the novel that is both poignant and deeply affecting. It emphasizes the inevitability of tragedy, and ultimately provides a fitting resolution to the story’s powerful themes.


Overall, the use of foreshadowing and symbols in Of Mice and Men serves to deepen the novel’s themes and create a sense of tragic inevitability. Lennie’s character serves as a central symbol for the novel’s themes, embodied by the recurring use of the number seven. Through the use of symbolism, Steinbeck creates a powerful and moving portrayal of the frailty of the human condition and the inevitability of tragedy.

SevenRepresents Lennie’s inherent predisposition towards tragedy and foreshadows his ultimate fate.
PuppiesRepresents Lennie’s childlike innocence and naivete, as well as his destructive potential.
Candy’s GunRepresents both the potential for violence, as well as the characters’ futile attempts to hold onto power in an unfair world.

Through these symbols, Steinbeck lends a powerful emotional weight to his novel, creating a deeply affecting portrait of human tragedy and the resilience that remains in the face of adversity.

Representation of the American Dream

Lennie Small is a powerful symbol of the American Dream in John Steinbeck’s novella “Of Mice and Men.” Throughout the story, Lennie personifies the idea that with hard work and determination, one can achieve success and prosperity in America.

One of the most prominent symbols of the American Dream in “Of Mice and Men” is the recurring imagery of the ranch. The concept of owning a piece of land to work and make a living is a central tenet of the American Dream. George and Lennie’s dream of owning a ranch represents their hope for a better future. The image of the ranch is a powerful metaphor for the possibility of success and the achievement of the American Dream.

What Does Lennie Symbolize?

  • Lennie symbolizes the struggle to achieve the American Dream through hard work and determination.
  • He personifies the idea that with a goal in mind and the conviction to achieve it, one can succeed.
  • Lennie’s childlike innocence also represents the purity of the American Dream, untainted by cynicism or despair.

The Importance of the Number 8

The number 8 is a recurring motif throughout “Of Mice and Men” and is a central symbol of the American Dream. Eight is the number of the ranch that George and Lennie hope to own, and it appears repeatedly throughout the novella in the form of the eight miles that the ranch is from Soledad, the eight dollars a month Candy will contribute to the dream, and the eight puppies that Lennie takes care of for a time.

In Chinese culture, the number 8 is considered lucky because it sounds like the word for “prosperity” or “wealth.” In “Of Mice and Men,” the number 8 is similarly associated with the American Dream and the possibility of success. For George and Lennie, the ranch represents the promise of financial security and a better life, and the repetition of the number 8 reinforces their belief that their dream is achievable.

Examples of the Number 8 in “Of Mice and Men”
The eight miles between the ranch and Soledad
The eight dollars a month that Candy will contribute to George and Lennie’s dream
The eight puppies that Lennie takes care of

The number 8 is a potent symbol of the American Dream in “Of Mice and Men.” Its recurring appearance underscores the possibility of success for George and Lennie and reinforces the idea that hard work, determination, and a little bit of luck can lead to prosperity and happiness in America.

Reflective of the Great Depression

The character of Lennie in John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men has often been interpreted by literary scholars as a symbol of the marginalized and disenfranchised individuals during the Great Depression. Steinbeck’s depiction of Lennie’s vulnerability and simple-mindedness highlights the struggles of individuals who lacked access to education and resources during the economic downturn of the 1930s.

The Number 9

In Of Mice and Men, the number nine appears as a recurring motif that is often associated with Lennie. The number first appears in the opening chapter when Lennie and George are discussing their dream of owning a farm together. Lennie asks George to recite the story of their dream, and George obliges, stating that they will “live off the fatta the lan'” and have “a cow, and some pigs, and maybe a chicken or a rabbit.” In response, Lennie excitedly asks, “And live off the fatta the lan’?” George responds by saying, “Sure, we’d have a little house an’ a room to ourself. Little fat iron stove, an’ in the winter we’d keep a fire goin’ in it. It ain’t enough land so we’d have to work too. Maybe six, seven hours a day…like the whole damn world was gonna come through the door…But not us! An’ why? Because…because I got you to look after me, and you got me to look after you, and that’s why.” After George finishes his explanation, Lennie interrupts him, stating, “I remember about the rabbits, George.” George responds, “The hell with the rabbits. That’s all you can ever remember is them rabbits.” Lennie then begins to count on his fingers, stating, “I can jus’ as well go away, George, an’ live in a cave.” George then tells Lennie that he “couldn’t get along without” him, and Lennie responds, “you bet ya, we gonna get a little place.” The conversation between Lennie and George serves to highlight the simplistic nature of Lennie’s thought process and his difficulty in remembering details.

Later in the novel, the number nine appears again when Lennie is alone in the barn with Candy’s old dog. Lennie pleads with the dog to “play with him” and says, “I ain’t gonna do no bad things like I done before.” After the dog dies, and Curley’s wife enters the barn, Lennie becomes fixated on the story she tells him about her life. He asks her to “tell about the rabbits” again, and when she refuses, he becomes agitated, stating, “You ain’t wanted here. We told you you ain’t.” Lennie then becomes violent towards Curley’s wife, accidentally breaking her neck. The repetition of the number nine in the novel serves to underscore Lennie’s childlike mentality and his inability to fully comprehend the gravity of his actions.

The Dream FarmLennie and George’s hopes for a better future
The RabbitsLennie’s desire for companionship and simplicity
The Dead PuppyLennie’s unintentional destruction and lack of control

Overall, the use of the number nine as a recurring motif in Of Mice and Men serves to underscore the simplistic and childlike mentality of the character of Lennie. The novel highlights the struggles of marginalized individuals during the Great Depression and serves as a commentary on the challenges faced by those who lacked access to education and resources during this difficult period in American history.

Conflict between societal expectations and individual nature

One of the central themes in John Steinbeck’s novel Of Mice and Men is the conflict between societal expectations and individual nature. This is exemplified by the character Lennie, who represents the struggle between the desire to conform to societal norms and the innate human need for freedom and self-expression.

  • Lennie’s physical strength and childlike mentality make him a target for exploitation and control by those around him, particularly George.
  • Throughout the novel, Lennie struggles to reconcile his desire for freedom and autonomy with his need for the security and companionship that George provides.
  • Lennie’s love for soft things and his inability to control his own strength represent a deep-seated desire for tenderness and connection that runs counter to societal norms of masculinity and control.

The tension between societal expectations and individual nature is further highlighted by the treatment of other characters in the novel, such as Candy, Curley’s wife, and Crooks. These characters each struggle to find a sense of belonging and autonomy in a world that is governed by rigid social structures and prejudices.

Ultimately, Steinbeck’s portrayal of Lennie and the other characters in Of Mice and Men underscores the fundamental human need for connection, compassion, and freedom. By exploring the conflict between societal expectations and individual nature, Steinbeck invites readers to question the assumptions and norms that shape our world and to consider the true cost of sacrificing our own humanity for the sake of conformity and control.

Related Quotes

“I ain’t got no people. I seen the guys that go around on the ranches alone. That ain’t no good. They don’t have no fun. After a long time, they get mean.” – George
“A guy needs somebody―to be near him. A guy goes nuts if he ain’t got nobody. Don’t make no difference who the guy is, long’s he’s with you. I tell ya, I tell ya a guy gets too lonely an’ he gets sick.” – Crooks
“His [Lennie’s] compulsive dependence upon George is both pathetic and threatening; he cannot commit himself to a childlike dependence upon a single adult except at the price of the autonomy and individuality which convention demands all men must achieve in order to be deemed mature and responsible.” – John Ditsky

What Does Lennie Symbolize: FAQs

1. What does Lennie symbolize in Of Mice and Men?

Lennie symbolizes innocence, fragility, and the American Dream. His childlike nature represents the vulnerability of the weak and the marginalized in society. Lennie’s desire to own a farm with George is also an allusion to the American Dream and the hope for a better future.

2. Why does Lennie symbolize the American Dream?

Lennie’s simple aspirations and his unwavering belief in the possibility of owning a farm embody the spirit of the American Dream. His dream is a reflection of the hope that anyone can achieve success and prosperity through hard work and determination.

3. What does Lennie’s death symbolize?

Lennie’s death symbolizes the futility of dreams and the harsh reality of life. It also represents the inevitability of death and the impermanence of human existence.

4. Does Lennie symbolize anything else besides innocence and the American Dream?

Lennie also symbolizes the struggle to fit in and the burden of responsibility. His inability to control his strength puts him at odds with society, while his dependence on George holds him back from fully experiencing life.

5. How does Lennie symbolize loneliness?

Lennie’s social isolation and his inability to communicate with others make him a symbol of loneliness. He is constantly searching for someone to talk to or connect with, but because of his limitations, he is unable to form meaningful relationships.

6. Does Lennie have any positive symbolism?

Yes, Lennie’s bravery and loyalty also make him a symbol of love and friendship. Despite his flaws, he remains devoted to his friend George and would do anything to protect him.

7. What does Lennie symbolize in the context of the Great Depression?

Lennie symbolizes the plight of the working class during the Great Depression. His dreams of owning a farm represent the hope of a better future for those struggling to survive during hard times.

Closing Thoughts: Thanks for Reading

So there you have it, folks. Lennie’s character in Of Mice and Men symbolizes innocence, fragility, the American Dream, love, and friendship, as well as the harsh realities of life, loneliness, and the struggles of the working class during the Great Depression. Despite his tragic end, Lennie remains a timeless figure in American literature. Thanks for reading, and be sure to visit us again for more engaging content.