Social Discrimination in John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men | Teen Ink

Social Discrimination in John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men

September 24, 2023
By Tiffanyjin BRONZE, Wilmington, Massachusetts
Tiffanyjin BRONZE, Wilmington, Massachusetts
3 articles 0 photos 0 comments

The famous American business magnate Bill Gates once said, “Discrimination has a lot of layers that make it tough for minorities to get a leg up.” Discrimination happens more frequently than many of us may want to believe. There are lots of different types of discrimination, including race, age, gender, and more. In the novella Of Mice and Men, the author John Steinbeck offers various examples of marginalized identities through his characters. The novella is set in the 1930s—a period during which women, racial minorities, and disabled individuals had few rights. George, one of the characters who do not belong to a marginalized community, contrasts hugely with the marginalized characters: he is given a choice, options, and opportunities in regard to his fate. However, George’s ultimate decision to kill Lennie demonstrates that even with choice, people who are not marginalized seemingly have to get rid of the impact of marginalized people on their lives in order to succeed.

Lennie, one of the main characters in the novella, is an example of a marginalized character. He is cast aside for his mental disabilities, which sometimes even agitate his best friend George: “If I was alone I could live so easy. I could go get a job an' work, an' no trouble....An' whatta I got,’ George went on furiously. ‘I got you! You can't keep a job and you lose me ever' job I get. Jus' keep me shovin' all over the country all the time. An' that ain't the worst. You get in trouble. You do bad things and I got to get you out” (Steinbeck 11). From George’s point of view, Lennie’s presence is a hinderance to George at all times. Due to his mental disabilities and incompetence, people often misunderstand his actions and intentions. Lennie is often left behind by George because he is afraid that Lennie will cause additional problems for the two of them. For instance, Lennie is left out when everyone else goes into town: “Ever’body went into town… George says I gotta stay here an’ not get in no trouble” (Steinbeck 68). Because of his mental disability, Lennie is not aware of his own strength or intentions, which ultimately leads to his depressing fate–accidentally killing Curley’s wife, which forces George to make the final decision to kill him.

Another example of a character who is marginalized because of aspects of their identity is Candy, who is considered weak because he is elderly and  missing a hand. He is a lonely man and his only companion is his old dog. The dog is described as “a drag-footed sheet dog, gray of muzzle, and with pale, blind old eyes” (Steinbeck 24). Eventually, the guys at the ranch decide to shoot the dog because it has lived beyond its usefulness. Just like his dog, Candy has also lived beyond his usefulness, and he is very aware of that: “They’ll can me purty soon. Jus’ as soon as I can’t swamp out no bunkhouses they’ll put me on the county” (Steinbeck 60). Originally, Candy’s only beacon of hope was his dog, the only living thing that cared about him; as his dog gets shot, he loses his hope. Fortunately, the dream of owning a farm with Lennie and George revives his hope, but it dies away again when Lennie kills Curley’s wife. Candy’s fate is connected to his age because the ranch would be the same with or without him. He is not useful anymore. His age and physical status prevent him from doing hard work at the farm, which keeps him away from his dreams and ultimate happiness.

 Curley’s wife is never even given a name in the novel due toher gender and therefore her marginalized status. Women could not do farm work or anything in terms of work in the 1930s, hence she really could not get anything out of her life except living as a wife at the ranch. She is the only woman at the ranch. She flirts with every man to get attention from Curley and the others. All the other men know their limits and are aware that getting close to her would not be good for them. Lennie, however, is deeply attracted to her, and due to his disabilities, he is not aware of the danger that would come with getting close to her. Therefore, Lennie becomes the main target of Curley’s wife. She convinces Lennie it is fine to hang out with her: “Why can't I talk to you? I never get to talk to nobody. I get awful lonely” (Steinbeck 86). Curley's wife’s fate, being stuck on the ranch living under Curley and then dying by Lennie’s hand, is connected to her gender because the way she uses her identity as a woman to attract Lennie’s attention is also what leads to Lennie misunderstanding the situation and killing her.

George, on the other hand, does not face discrimination in Of Mice and Men. He is white, young, strong, and for the most part, he gets along with people. His life is much easier than the aforementioned marginalized characters. After George kills Lennie at the end of the book, others at the farm work to cheer him up: “Slim twitched George's elbow. ‘Come on, George. Me an' you'll go in an' get a drink’” (Steinbeck 107). When Lennie kills Curley’s wife, everyone gets angry and hunts for him; however, when George kills someone, everyone comforts him, hoping to make him feel better. People’s attitudes change when different people do the same things. The reason they treat George differently is because George is strong, young, and  neurotypical. He does not have a marginalized identity of any sort.

Marginalized characters’ lives seem to only have one ending: tragedy. The novella Of Mice and Men represents many different types of discrimination including race, age, gender, and disability. Marginalized characters don’t have a choice about what they do–their inability to succeed is already decided for them; however, non-marginalized people can get away with murder, literally and figuratively as shown in this novella.


Steinbeck, John. Of Mice and Men. United States, Penguin Publishing Group, 1993.

Similar Articles


This article has 0 comments.