Curley, the boss' son, is an evil character in Steinbeck's world. Even Lennie feels the sense of menace when Curley first comes into the bunkhouse. Curley is a "thin young man with a brown face, with brown eyes and a head of tightly curled hair." According to Candy, Curley is an amateur boxer and is always picking fights, especially with guys who are bigger than he is.
Curley tries to prove his masculinity by picking fights. Another way to prove himself is by marrying a physically attractive woman. His wife is never given a name, but by calling her "Curley's wife," Steinbeck indicates she is his possession. Curley refuses to let her talk to anyone on the ranch, isolating her from everyone and setting the stage for trouble. He makes a big show of keeping his hand soft to caress her, yet patronizes the local whorehouse on Saturday night. While he may strut around the ranch because of his position as the boss' son, he obviously cannot satisfy his wife and is mean to her. Curley beats up any man who dares to talk to her; the only one he listens to and seems to respect is Slim.
When Curley picks the fight with Lennie, he does not realize the danger he is in. Once George allows Lennie to fight back, Lennie smashes Curley's hand, breaking every bone. Curley whimpers like a baby and cries helplessly with the pain. When Lennie kills Curley's wife, Curley sees this as his opportunity for revenge. In his meanness, he tells Carlson to aim for Lennie's gut so that Lennie will suffer. This, in turn, causes George to make the decision to kill Lennie mercifully.