George’s Decision Meant Lennie’s Salvation

George’s Decision Meant Lennie’s Salvation

Alana Lewis, Staff Writer

Consider the closing scene of John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men: a sparkling green pool suspended in the rapid flow of the Salinas River; a dense wood filled with trees of silver leaves turned to the sky and a man with large sloping shoulders, lying dead in the bloodstained sand – a man killed by his best friend and sole guardian, George Milton. George euthanized his childhood friend, Lennie Small, after he killed Curley’s Wife. George was justified in euthanizing Lennie because Lennie would have died, even if George hadn’t been the one to kill him—it was the only way to ensure Lennie’s happiness and because George knew that he had to be the one to kill Lennie.

When pondering over the correctness of Lennie’s euthanization, keep in mind that Lennie would have died whether George had pulled the trigger or not. As Dr. Jack Kevorkian – perhaps better known as “Doctor Death” – wisely said, “What difference does it make if someone is terminal? We are all terminal”. He said this in response to being questioned about his involvement in Physician-Assisted Suicide patients’ cases when some were not suffering from a terminal illness but nonetheless wished to end their life. In Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck, Lennie was terminal. In a matter of minutes, the lynching mob was going to find George and Lennie’s hidden meeting place and cause Lennie harm, resulting in his death. Curley instructed Carlson that when he sees Lennie, “don’t give ‘im no chance. Shoot for his guts. That’ll double ‘im over.” (chapter five) This shows that Curley intended to force a terrible and excruciatingly painful death upon Lennie. George would later kill Lennie the same way Carlson had killed Candy’s dog: he would carefully aim for the point where the skull and neck join, and fire from behind. Furthermore, George talked soothingly to Lennie about their Dream Farm, companionship, and the rabbits that Lennie would tend to (Steinbeck chapter six). Curley would have killed Lennie in a temper, torturing him, and George killed Lennie with mercy, making it clear that although Lennie was suffering no physical illness, he was terminal, and George had to kill him mercifully.

George was also justified in killing Lennie because he knew euthanizing Lennie was the best he could do for him. From running away from mobs and hiding in irrigation ditches, to sharing cans of beans, Lennie and George have been together through thick and thin. George, from the beginning, is known to be the leader. He puts the best foot forward and points out the best path for Lennie to follow behind him (Steinbeck chapter one). Lennie’s Aunt Clara entrusted him to George’s care from her deathbed and from then on George, as Lennie’s best friend and guardian, dedicated himself to do whatever was best for Lennie. After Curley and Carlson left the barn, George asks Slim if they could reason with the ranch hands and try to explain that Lennie didn’t kill Curley’s Wife “to be mean” (Steinbeck chapter 5). George suggests bringing in Lennie and allowing Lennie to be sent to prison but Slim says: ““If we could keep Curley in, we might. But Curley’s gonna want to shoot ‘im. Curley’s still mad about his hand. An’ s’pose they lock him up an’ strap him down and put him in a cage. That ain’t no good, George.” “I know,” said George. “I know.”” (Steinbeck chapter five). George knew that with having Lennie living in an oppressed state, in a prison, and away from George and all he has ever known, Lennie would be miserable to the extent that he would experience more happiness in death. George had been the guardian of Lennie for a long time and therefore knew Lennie well. Killing Lennie was the most courageous and altruistic action George could have executed. The euthanization of Lennie acted as a farewell, a conclusion, and the final words to a fulfilling friendship.

Additionally, George was justified in killing Lennie because he knew that he had to. By chapter six, George undoubtedly felt déjà vu over Lennie’s predicament, because he had seen this before. In chapter three of Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck, Candy’s old sheepdog is killed by a ranch hand named Carlson. Carlson was an aggressive character who searched for excitement, as did the other ranch hands. Carlson used irrelevant grievances such as the dog’s stench compiled with the power of the group – the other ranch hands in the bunkhouse – to bully Candy into letting him kill it. Throughout the conversation between Carlson and Candy, George absorbs the dialogue’s material and occasionally tries to derail it. Later, Candy admits, ““I ought to of shot that dog myself, George. I shouldn’t ought to of let no stranger shoot my dog.”” (Steinbeck chapter 3) – ashamed that he let someone kill his closest companion, and if it had to happen, that he should have been the one to do it. This can be set equal to the lynching mob, and the hunting of Lennie. A group of excitement-seeking ranch hands led by a hot-headed Curley were not willing to hear out anything that could pardon Lennie – which George quickly saw when he said, ““But listen, Curley. The poor b–d’s nuts. Don’t shoot ‘im. He di’n’t know what he was doin’.”” Curley replied, ““Don’t shoot ‘im? […] He got Carlson’s Luger. ‘Course we’ll shoot ‘im.”” (Steinbeck chapter five). Here, George saw that Curley was unwittingly forcing him to choose between the growing mob that set out to kill Lennie, or George killing Lennie, and George remembered Candy’s regret and quickly developed a steely resolve to give his friend dignity and peace in a rushed death.

It is often perceived that Lennie’s euthanization was illegitimate and some may even think George to be a murderer. These baseless claims cannot be true because of the compelling evidence which proves them otherwise. In the final chapter of Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, Lennie can be compared to a terminally ill patient in a coma, suffering from intense pain. George can be analogized as the family member who is responsible for the incapacitated patient. The patient is clearly in agony, and the doctor offers the family member the option to painlessly end the life of the patient through a form of euthanasia or to let the patient die slowly and painfully over a prolonged period of time. The family member, thinking only of their loved one’s happiness rather than their personal wishes – to have their loved one on earth as long as possible – makes the difficult choice to euthanize the patient and give them a peaceful, painless death. This situation runs parallel to the situation of Lennie and George in the end of Of Mice and Men (Steinbeck) and both represent non-voluntary euthanasia. In this type of mercy killing, the suffering patient is unable to either understand their situation or express their wishes, so a person who is close to them must envision themselves in the patients’ place and decide whether the patient should be euthanized. The family member would not be considered a murderer for this decision, and neither should George be considered a murderer for choosing non-voluntary euthanasia for Lennie. Lennie, because of his mental disability could not understand the situation he was in, or the pain he would be in if Curley had gotten to him. In chapter six, George sets aside his personal wishes of having Lennie with him for the sake of Lennie’s happiness, and he absorbs the blow of Curley’s rage for Lennie, opting for non-voluntary euthanasia.

Euthanasia by definition is the painless killing of a suffering person. A synonym for ‘euthanasia’ is ‘mercy killing’: death as an effect and the means of mercy. George saved Lennie from unspeakable pain, sacrificing his dreams and family for Lennie. Essentially, George did not kill Lennie out of rage, but reason, not out of greed, but generosity, not out of cold blood, but in true kindness. It was an act of salvation.


Works Cited

Steinbeck, John. Of Mice and Men. Penguin, 1994.

Holland, Kimberly. “What Is Euthanasia? Types, Legal Status, Facts, Controversy, and.” Healthline, 31 May 2019, Accessed 21 Jan. 2021

Henderson, Laura. “Euthanasia.” Informative Speech Transcript, Western Michigan University. Speech.