The next morning, George and Lennie arrive at the ranch and go to the bunkhouse. The old swamper, Candy, informs them the boss is mad because they were supposed to arrive the night before. After Candy shows them which bunks to take, the conversation turns to people at the ranch, whom he describes.
When the boss arrives and questions Lennie and George about their work history and skills, George answers for Lennie, causing the boss to question Lennie's silence. George emphasizes Lennie's power and work ethic. Suspicious of their partnership, the boss asks George why they left their last job. George explains that the work was done. Satisfied, the boss leaves, telling them they can work after supper on Slim's grain team. After the boss leaves, George scolds Lennie for speaking.
The old swamper returns with an old sheep dog. George asks Candy about his dog. Candy says he raised the old dog from a pup and that he was a great sheep dog in his younger days.
Curley, the boss' son, enters and sizes up George. Looking at Lennie, Curley fists his hands and assumes a fighter's stance. He wants to know if they are the new guys, and when George answers, Curley insists that Lennie must talk when he is spoken to. Lennie repeats George's answer softly. Satisfied, Curley leaves to go look for his father.
With Curley gone, Candy explains that Curley used to be a lightweight fighter and now he hates big guys and picks fights with them. If that weren't bad enough, according to Candy, Curley has gotten much worse since his marriage two weeks earlier. Candy relates that Curley's wife is pretty but she has "got the eye," and she flirts with Slim and Carlson. Candy leaves, and George tells Lennie to stay away from Curley and not speak to him; however, George says, if Curley punches Lennie, Lennie is to "let him have it." Then George reminds Lennie of the place by the river where he is to go in case of trouble.
Shortly after, Curley's wife comes into the bunkhouse, claiming to look for Curley. Fascinated, Lennie can't take his eyes off her. Then Slim enters and tells her he saw Curley go into the house; Curley's wife becomes apprehensive and leaves.
When George says that Curley's wife seems like a "tramp," Lennie responds that he thinks she is "purty," causing George to warn Lennie to keep away from her, just like he's supposed to keep away from Curley. This admonition worries Lennie, who says, "I don't like this place, George. This ain't a good place." But George reminds him they must stay long enough to make a stake for their farm.
Another man, Carlson, enters the bunkhouse and asks Slim about his new puppies, suggesting that they could replace Candy's old dog, who is old, arthritic, and can barely walk or see, with one of the puppies. Hearing about the puppies, Lennie wants one too, and asks George to speak to Slim.
Supper is called. As Lennie gets off the bunk and approaches the door, Curley returns, looking for his wife. George tells him that she was there looking for Curley. George is afraid he will tangle with Curley himself as they all leave for supper.
Chapter 1 began with a beautiful nature scene: the gentle breeze, the slopes of the mountains, the evening sun going down, and the calm pool. Chapter 2 introduces the ranch. The bunkhouse is sparsely furnished; it's a dark room with just the essentials of a bunk and place to put gear. Once the story shifts from the natural setting of Chapter 1 to the bunkhouse in Chapter 2, things change considerably. Steinbeck contrasts the world of nature and the world of men. At the pond the water is warm, the breeze gentle, and the light shimmers over the sand. No wonder George wants to spend the night there instead of coming straight to the ranch. In contrast, the ranch contains characters who have been beaten down by life; it also contains danger in the form of Curley and his wife. By juxtaposing the natural scene at the pond with the scene in the bunkhouse, Steinbeck highlights the contrast between the freedom of nature and the unpredictable pattern of humans and their sometimes dangerous ways.
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