Crooks is so named because of a crooked back caused by a kick from a horse. Crooks is the stable hand who takes care of the horses and lives by himself because he is the only black man on the ranch. Along with Candy, Crooks is a character used by Steinbeck to show the effects of discrimination. This time the discrimination is based on race, and Crooks is not allowed in the bunkhouse with the white ranch hands. He has his own place in the barn with the ranch animals. Candy realizes he has never been in Crooks' room, and George's reaction to Crooks being involved in their dream is enough to cause Crooks to withdraw his request to be part of the dream. Racial discrimination is part of the microcosm Steinbeck describes in his story. It reaches its height in the novel when Curley's wife puts Crooks "in his place" by telling him that a word from her will have him lynched. Interestingly, only Lennie, the flawed human, does not see the color of Crooks' skin.
Crooks also has pride. He is not the descendent of slaves, he tells Lennie, but of landowners. In several places in the story, Steinbeck shows Crook's dignity and pride when he draws himself up and will not "accept charity" from anyone. Crooks also displays this "terrible dignity" when Curley's wife begins to tear away at his hope for the dream farm.
Crooks is not without his faults, however. He scares Lennie and makes up the story of George leaving him. Prejudice isn't simply a characteristic of the white ranch hands or the daughter-in-law of the boss; it is a human characteristic, and Crooks needs to feel superior to someone also.
That he becomes part of the dream farm is an indication of Crooks' loneliness and insecurity. He, like Candy, realizes that once he is no longer useful he will be "thrown out." Where, then, can he find some security for his future? The dream farm of Lennie's seems to be the place. Crooks promises to work for nothing as long as he can live his life out there without the fear of being put out. Like all the others, he wants a place where he can be independent and have some security. But there is no security for anyone in a prejudiced world, least of all a black stable hand with a crooked back.