George: George is the story's main protagonist, a small, quick man with well-defined features. A migrant ranch worker, George dreams of one day saving enough money to buy his own place and be his own boss, living off of the land. The hindrance to his objective is his mentally handicapped companion, Lennie, with whom he has traveled and worked since Lennie's Aunt Clara, whom George knew, died. The majority of George's energy is devoted to looking after Lennie, whose blunders prevent George from working toward his dream, or even living the life of a normal rancher. Thus, George's conflict arises in Lennie, to whom he has the ties of long-time companionship that he so often yearns to break in order to live the life of which he dreams. This tension strains George into demonstrating various emotions, ranging from anger to patience to sadness to pride and to hope.
Lennie: George's companion, the source of the novel's conflict. Lennie, enormous, ungainly, and mentally slow, is George's polar opposite both mentally and physically. Lennie's ignorance and innocence and helplessness, his childish actions, such as his desire to pet soft things, contrast his physical bulk, making him likeable to readers. Although devoid of cruel intentions, Lennie's stupidity and carelessness cause him to unwittingly harm animals and people, which creates trouble for both him and George. Lennie is tirelessly devoted to George and delights in hearing him tell of the dream of having a farm, but he does not desire the dream of the American worker in the same way that George does. His understanding of George's dream is more childish and he grows excited at the possibility of tending the future rabbits, most likely because it will afford him a chance to pet their soft hides as much as he wishes. Nevertheless, a dream is a dream, different for everyone, and George and Lennie share the similar attribute of desiring what they haven't got. Lennie, however, is helpless to attain his dream, and remains a static character throughout, relying on George to fuel is hope and save him from trouble.
Candy: The old, one-handed swamper who is the first to befriend George and Lennie at Soledad. Humble and weary, Candy seems to be at the end of his line after Carlson shoots his last possession and companion, his old, blind dog. "When they can me here I wisht somebody'd shoot me" (66), Candy confesses to George and Lennie, hoping for a similar fate as his dog. But when he overhears the two talking of their little place, Candy offers all his money and his meager services to be in on the dream. His substantial sum of money and the fact that he knows of a place make it impossible for George to refuse him. Candy clings to this hope of a future as a drowning man would to a piece of driftwood. It rekindles life within him, but it also becomes an obsession, and in his excitement and indignation, he lets the secret slip to both Crooks and Curley's wife. And when Lennie kills Curley's wife and shatters the reality of the dream, Candy becomes hopeless and full of anguish, the broken shell of a man.
Curley: The boxer, the son of the boss, the angry and hot-headed obstacle to George's attempt to keep Lennie out of trouble at Soledad. Insecure of his size and over-protective of his wife, Curley is eager to fight anyone he perceives as a threat to his self-image. From the outset, Lennie unwittingly incurs Curley's antagonism simply because of his size, and the reader immediately braces for future confrontation. Curley remains undeveloped, forever little and forever mean, poking his head in at various points in the novel, either to look for his wife or to stir up trouble on account of her.
Curley's Wife: Nameless and flirtatious, Curley's wife is perceived by Candy to be the cause of all that goes wrong at Soledad: "Ever'body knowed you'd mess things up. You wasn't no good" (104-105), he says to her dead body in his grief. The workers, George included, see her as having "the eye" for every guy on the ranch, and they cite this as the reason for Curley's insecurity and hot-headed temperament. But Curley's wife adds complexity to her own characterization, confessing to Lennie that she dislikes Curley because he is angry all the time and saying that she comes around because she is lonely and just wants someone with whom to talk. Like George and Lennie, she once had a dream of becoming an actress and living in Hollywood, but it went unrealized, leaving her full of self-pity, married to an angry man, living on a ranch without friends, and viewed as a trouble-maker by everyone.
Crooks: Called such because of a crooked spine, Steinbeck does not develop Crooks, the Negro stable buck, until the fourth chapter, describing him as a "proud, aloof man. He kept his distance and demanded that other people keep theirs" (74). Crooks is bitter, indignant, angry, and ultimately frustrated by his helplessness as a black man in a racist culture. Wise and observant, Crooks listens to Lennie's talk of the dream of the farm with cynicism. Although tempted by Candy, Lennie, and George's plan to buy their own place, Crooks is constantly reminded (in this case by Curley's wife) that he is inferior to whites and, out of pride, he refuses to take part in their future farm.
Slim: The tall, jerkline skinner whom Steinbeck describes as something of a living legend: "he moved with a majesty only achieved by royalty and master craftsmen. He was a jerkline skinner, the prince of the ranch, capable of driving ten, sixteen, even twenty mules with a single line to the leaders. He was capable of killing a fly on the wheeler's butt with a bull whip without touching the mule. There was gravity in his manner and a quiet so profound that all talk stopped when he spoke. . . His hatchet face was ageless. He might have been thirty-fice or fifty. HIs ear heard more than was said to him, and his slow speech had overtones not of thought, but of understanding beyond thought" (37). Slim lingers in the shadow of his overwhelming description throughout the novel. He serves as the fearless, decision-maker when conflicts arise among the workers and wins the confidence of George, offering advice, comfort, and quiet words of wisdom.