Do people who are treated poorly in society due to a mental illness, hold accountability for their own actions? Well this question is tested in the book Of Mice and Men, written by John Steinbeck. The story takes place in the early 1930’s. Two men, Lennie and George are workers who dream of one day having their own farm. Lennie is a bigger man, who seems to suffer from a mental disability, while George is smaller, but is Lennie’s companion, and fellow worker. George always seemed to stick with, and help Lennie, due to his disability, but this all changes once they begin working on a farm together. George always knew Lennie was one to get into trouble, even if it wasn’t on purpose, and tried his best to keep him safe. His illness always prevented him from seeing why or how he got himself into trouble in the first place, which was one of Lennie’s biggest obstacles. People who suffer with these illnesses don’t seem to know the differences between right and wrong, especially if they have a negative impact from the society around them.
Throughout the novel, it is clear how Lennie has had multiple impacts and experiences, that helped with his outcome in the novel. Some of these impacts are shown in situations he was put in from his younger days, into his older ones. As a young child, his Aunt Clara would always give him mice to play with and pet, because Lennie likes soft things. It was said in the novel, how he would accidentally kill the mice, because he was being too rough with them, but it was never intentional. “ ‘ They was so little,’ he said, apologetically. ‘I’d pet ‘em and pretty soon they bit my fingers and I pinched their heads a little and then they was dead- because they was so little.” (Steinbeck, 10) Lennie never intentionally meant to harm the animals he collected, only stop them from biting him, or play with them a bit, but he could never control himself because he didn’t know any better. Another situation that he couldn’t control was when he accidentally killed the puppy toward the end of the novel. He claimed that the puppy was beginning to bite him, and he smacked it to stop it, but used too much force and accidentally killed him. Lennie had good intentions, just didn’t seem to handle his emotions correctly. And the final situation was when he killed Curley’s wife. She came in shortly after Lennie killed the dog. She comforted him, and let him touch her hair, after Lennie had explained how he liked to touch soft things. Eventually Curley’s wife pulled away, and this made Lennie panic, and tug her hair. As he was struggling with Curley’s wife, trying to keep her from yelling so he wouldn’t be in trouble, he accidentally snapped her neck, not knowing what he was doing. “Lennie was in a panic. His face was contorted… ‘I don’t want you to yell. You gonna get me in trouble jus’ like George says you will.’… And then she was still, for Lennie had broken her neck.” (Steinbeck, 91) Lennie never had any intention of hurting her, just trying to keep her from getting in trouble with George. He had no control over his actions in these situations because he was never told right from wrong. He was never taught to be gentle, and not to hit or squeeze the animals. Only yelled at and punished if he hurt someone or something on accident, just because he had a disability.
Another way that Lennie’s outcome, and the overall outcome of the book was affected was through societies views and actions toward Lennie. One of the main views that Lennie relies on throughout the book is George. George is his main companion, and someone who Lennie trusted. Even though George was a friend, he was also someone who made Lennie nervous, and this can be seen in Lennie’s reactions. George knew about Lennie’s condition, but yet he treated him like he was any other person. While this is good in some cases, in other cases it can be harsh, because Lennie has a hard time understanding where George is coming from. An example of this would be when Lennie and Curley’s wife were struggling, and Lennie begged her to keep quiet because george would yell at him. “ ‘Oh! Please don’t do none of that,’ he begged. ‘ George gonna say I done a bad thing. He ain’t gonna let me tend to no rabbits.’” (Steinbeck, 91) This scene showed the significance of the relationship between Lennie and George, and how Lennie really felt about George when Lennie made a mistake. Another person who was a very negative influence on Lennie’s life, and behaviors, was Curley. He never really disciplined Lennie for his bad actions, but provoked them. Curley would take advantage of Lennie and fight with him physically. “Curley’s fist was swinging when Lennie reached for it. The next minute Curley was flopping like a fish on a line, and his closed fist was lost in Lennie’s big hand. George ran down the room. “Leggo of him Lennie, Let go.” ( 63, Steinbeck) Curley would go after him, proving to Lennie that violence was not only his only defense, but right, because no one would tell him otherwise. Lennie was easily influenced due to his disability, and these people played a part in the way Lennie behaved.
People who suffer from mental illnesses, can’t decipher the difference from right or wrong easily, or on their own. Lennie was a clear representation of this statement, and also helped prove the question if people with disabilities could be held accountable for their own actions to be false. Influences and people play big parts in mentally disabled people’s lives, and should be better cared for. If Lennie had received the discipline he needed, the outcome would have been very different.