The Complications that Arise from Friendships of Utility
Of Mice and Men, written by John Steinbeck, conveys the tale of an unlikely friendship between two very different individuals in a time where companionship is scarce and times are difficult for everyone. George, an intelligent and quick witted fellow, finds himself in more trouble than he’s bargained for when Lennie, a strong but rather incompetent man, makes a transgression ultimately causing them to become fugitives of the law. In an effort to sustain themselves and remain undercover Lennie and George find work at a ranch near Soledad, California where they are employed to buck barley. At the ranch, one is able to encounter many different kinds of friendships including those based upon utility. A friendship of utility, as described by the great philosopher, Aristotle, is “an impermanent thing: it changes according to circumstances. So with the disappearance of the ground for friendship, the friendship also breaks up, because that was what kept it alive” (Aristotle). Through consideration of what Steinbeck suggests about the kind of complications that arise from the friendships one chooses and reflection upon the multiple friendships seen throughout the novel, one can conclude that Steinbeck suggests that those who choose friendships of utility have friendships that are short-lived.
The fleetingness of utility friendships can be attributed to their tendency of forming on the basis of necessity, for the friendship will be dissolved once the necessity is fulfilled. This can be observed in the friendship between Curley, the son of the owner of the ranch that employed Lennie and George, and his wife. While conversing with Lennie Curley’s wife states, “I always thought my ol’ lady stole it. Well I wasn’t gonna stay no place where I couldn’t get nowhere or make something of myself, an’ where they stole your letter. I ast her if she stole it, too, an’ she says no. So I married Curley. Met him out to the Riverside Dance Palace that same night” (Steinbeck 88). Curley’s wife admits that her motivation for marrying was to spite her mother as vengeance for all of her lost opportunities as a result of her mother’s meddling. When individuals purposefully enter relationships based on personal gain, they enter friendships of utility. The fleetingness of the friendship between Curley and his wife is demonstrated by Curley’s wife following confession while speaking with Lennie, “I don’ like Curley. He ain’t a nice fella” (Steinbeck 89). Any kind of friendship whether based on utility, pleasure, or goodness requires mutual interest and without it there is no longer a friendship. The relationship between Curley and his wife has ended for she possesses no further interest towards Curley, which in turn, was caused by a lack of personal gain, for any personal gain in this relationship had already been fulfilled. Therefore, Steinbeck suggests, using this friendship as a model, that friendships of utility are short-lived which is caused by the tendency of those in friendships of utility to form their friendship out of necessity. This complication is also illustrated by the friendship between Crooks, the stable hand, and Candy, the swamper. Candy, in search of Lennie, finds himself in Crooks’ room, and upon arriving the novel states “It was difficult for Crooks to conceal his pleasure with anger” (Steinbeck 75). Crooks is a proud man and does not want to appear too eager for company nevertheless his pleasure in Candy’s arrival clearly illustrates his need to converse with others. Those who enter friendships out of need are considered to be embarking on a friendship of utility. However, when Curley’s wife diminishes Crooks’ spirit by supposedly putting him in his proper place, the friendship between Candy and Crooks is also diminished for Crooks no longer has a need to converse: “Crooks called, ‘Candy!’ ‘Huh?’ ‘’Member what I said about hoein’ and doin’ odd jobs?’… ‘Well jus’ forget it’ said Crooks. I didn’ mean it” (Steinbeck 83). Crooks’ need to converse with others was shown by his pleasure when Candy entered his room. This motive demonstrates a friendship of utility that was ultimately ended when the need for conversation was over; this is further proof that Steinbeck suggests friendships of utility are short-lived due to the fact that they are formed on the basis of need.
Another cause for a utility friendships’ fleetingness is the lack of trust between the individuals involved in the friendship because without trust one cannot continue a friendship for trust in the basis of all friendships. This complication can be seen in the friendship formed between Curley and his wife. When Lennie and George first arrive at the ranch Candy comments that it, “Seems like Curley is cockier ‘n ever since he got married” (Steinbeck 27). This quote provides validation as to why Curley got married; he was in need of “bragging rights” that is to say that he entered the friendship for personal gain therefore this can be considered a friendship of utility. Their friendship, however, was short lived. Curley, while looking for his wife encounters George and asks him, “You seen a girl around here?’…George said coldly, ‘’Bout half an hour ago maybe.’‘Well what the hell was she doin?” (Steinbeck 37). Curley exhibits a lack of trust towards his wife by always wanting to know her whereabouts, this lack of trust marks the end of their friendship; therefore supporting Steinbeck’s suggestion that friendships are short-lived due to a lack of trust. An example of this complication is also seen in the friendship between Candy and George. Candy, overhearing George and Lennie’s plan to own a ranch says, “S’pose I went in with you guys. That’s three hundred and fifty bucks I’d put in” (Steinbeck 59). Candy’s willingness to contribute money to George’s dream is a benefit for George; therefore, it can be considered a friendship of utility, for George commences the friendship out of personal gain. However, before Candy offered any contribution towards the ranch George snapped, “S’pose I do…What’s it to you?” (Steinbeck 59). From the start George was suspicious and did not entirely trust Candy which led to the end of their friendship for those who enter friendships of utility without trust have short-lived friendships.
By observing the friendships of utility found in Of Mice and Men one is able to conclude that Steinbeck is suggesting that those who choose to involve themselves in friendships of utility have friendships that are short lived. A lack of trust between the individuals upon which the friendship was formed and the fact that friendships of utility are often based on necessity are the two main reasons why friendships of utility are fleeting. With this knowledge one can now apply themselves towards relationships in life with a different mindset that emphasizes on building stronger, longer lasting friendships. This can be accomplished by simply shifting one’s intentions for beginning a friendship.