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    Ethical Dilemmas and Compassionate Choices: Unraveling George’s Decision to Shoot Lennie

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    In John Steinbeck’s iconic novella “Of Mice and Men,” the haunting conclusion revolves around an act of immense significance: George Milton’s decision to shoot his friend and companion, Lennie Small. This pivotal moment has sparked debates and discussions about the motivations, ethics, and emotional intricacies surrounding George’s choice. Delving into the psychological complexities of friendship, responsibility, and mercy, this essay embarks on an exploration of the multifaceted reasons behind George’s decision to shoot Lennie, ultimately revealing the powerful intersection of love and compassion within the realm of moral dilemmas.

    Friendship and Responsibility

    Central to George’s decision is the profound bond of friendship that he shares with Lennie. As George takes on the role of caretaker, their relationship transcends mere companionship, evolving into a protective role. The dynamics of this bond are forged by Lennie’s cognitive limitations, which make him vulnerable to external dangers and his own impulsivity. George’s responsibility towards Lennie’s well-being is a driving factor that influences his choices throughout the novella, including the fateful decision to end Lennie’s life.

    Ethical Dilemmas and Moral Compass

    The decision to shoot Lennie unearths a complex ethical dilemma that George grapples with. On one hand, George recognizes Lennie’s innocence and the lack of malicious intent behind his actions. On the other, he acknowledges the real harm that Lennie’s unintentional actions have caused and the potential for future harm. George’s moral compass is navigated by a consideration of the greater good, where sparing Lennie from a potential future of suffering and consequences becomes a central consideration in his choice.

    Mercy as an Act of Compassion

    At its core, George’s decision to shoot Lennie stems from an act of compassion and mercy. He recognizes that Lennie, despite his strength, remains a victim of his own limited understanding of consequences. George’s choice to end Lennie’s life is an attempt to shield him from the harsh realities of a world that he cannot navigate successfully. In essence, the act becomes a gesture of love, an attempt to grant Lennie a peaceful exit from a world that has proven too challenging for him to navigate.

    Personal Sacrifice and Emotional Turmoil

    George’s decision to shoot Lennie also involves personal sacrifice and emotional turmoil. He understands that his own life will be irrevocably altered by this act, severing the bond that has defined his existence for so long. The choice showcases the weight of responsibility he carries and underscores the resilience of his compassion in the face of immense emotional strain.

    Conclusion: Love and the Harsh Realities

    The decision to shoot Lennie in “Of Mice and Men” remains a testament to the complexity of human emotions and the intricate nature of moral dilemmas. George’s choice emerges from a blend of friendship, responsibility, ethical considerations, and profound compassion. It embodies the notion that the most compassionate acts can arise from the most heart-wrenching circumstances. In exploring George’s decision, we are reminded of the delicate balance between love and the harsh realities of existence, where ethical choices often unfold in the shadows of our deepest emotions.


    1. Steinbeck, John. “Of Mice and Men.” First published in 1937.
    2. Barden, L. J. (2019). John Steinbeck and Moral Dilemmas. Southern Illinois University Press.
    3. Ward, M. P. (2017). Reading “Of Mice and Men” Through a Disability Studies Lens. In Disability in the Modern World (pp. 389-391). ABC-CLIO.
    4. Kulkarni, K. (2020). Emotions and Morality in “Of Mice and Men”. In “Of Mice and Men” by John Steinbeck (pp. 111-123). Studera Press.
    5. Li, Q. (2019). Revisiting the Dream in “Of Mice and Men”. Foreign Literature Studies, 41(4), 95-110.

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    Ethical Dilemmas and Compassionate Choices: Unraveling George’s Decision to Shoot Lennie. (2023, Aug 21). Retrieved from

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