Alex Lowery speaks about autism

Of Mice & Men – is Lennie autistic?

Written on 28th Nov 2017 by Alex Lowery

How many of you have read, watched or listened to the story called ‘Of Mice and Men’ by John Steinbeck? It’s an excellent story about two men who travel together. One of the men is called Lennie. He is a huge man and very strong. The other is a slender and shorter man called George. The story highly implies that Lennie has an Intellectual Disability and George is basically his carer. Lennie really struggles to remember basic everyday things that most people would take for granted and George has to help him to remember them. When I come to listen to the Audiobook, it also appears to me like Lennie also displays many of the signs of autism. It’s clear that Lennie does have an Intellectual Disability, but I also wonder if he would meet the diagnostic criteria for autism. Below are a list of traits that could indicate Lennie is somewhere on the spectrum.

Lennie loves to touch all things soft like mice, dogs, rabbits and other things. This is often an autistic like characteristic. Many autistic people can be sensitive to certain things that they touch, but they can also adore the feeling of other things. I’m autistic and I love to feel soft animals, and as a child I always loved the feeling of velvet and would always want to touch it. I also remember liking my mother’s soft furry slippers. I also know of other autistics who simply adore the feeling of soft coats and other sensations.

Lennie appears to get very fixated and obsessed over certain things and pays no attention to anything else. This is very much a Classic autistic characteristic. For example; George tells Lennie that one day they will build their own ranch with animals and Lennie will get to tend the rabbits. Once he’s been told this, Lennie is constantly obsessed and completely fixated on the idea of getting this ranch started. It’s like that’s all he thinks about and he loses sight of everything else. Another autistic trait is to focus on one thing.

Lennie appears to have a very good memory for set things but a very poor memory for everything else. For example, a lot of the things that Lennie doesn’t think about (that aren’t a fixation of his) he seems to forget within a matter of minutes, but there are other things that he seems to remember in great detail for a long time. He remembers many of the things George tells him about their hopes and dreams. He also remembers a lot of George’s speech about ‘how his life would be so much easier if he didn’t have to look after Lennie’. It seems as though Lennie is also able to use echolalia considering how well he can recite a lot of what George tells him. Again, this is another trait of ASC.

Lennie tends to ask the same thing again and again. A lot of autistic people (particularly children) tend to ask the same questions again and again. In my experience (obviously I can’t speak for everyone) this isn’t that they keep forgetting the answers to the questions in most cases, but rather that they love to hear the answers. Hearing set answers can be very satisfying. I did this a lot as a kid, and I even still do now sometimes ask a question because I want to hear the answer even if I know it. This is very like Lennie when he continuously asked George to tell him about the his plan that involved them owning a ranch with rabbits, etc. Lennie remembered it just as well as George did, but he loved hearing George speak about it so he would ask him to repeat it again and again. Hearing the plan from George’s mouth made him very excited. So that is another example of how Lennie seems to have autistic traits.

Lennie also doesn’t appear to be fully in control of his own body. This is probably more a trait of dyspraxia, but there are a lot of crossovers. When Lennie petted all the animals, he killed them. He didn’t mean to, but he just didn’t have enough control over his hands from being overly rough with them. I’ve not quite killed any furry creatures, but I have broken things because I’ve not had full control over my own strength.

There is a line in the book that even indicates that Lennie Stims. It speaks about certain hand gestures Lennie used. Stimming for those of you who don’t know is short for ‘self stimulatory behaviour’ and is a common feature for a lot of autistics.

So that was my list. Of Mice & Men was published back in 1937. I don’t believe autism was even a diagnosis yet at that point in time. It’s quite obvious that Lennie has an Intellectual Disability at least. In my opinion; he does appear to have autistic traits. This of course doesn’t automatically make him autistic because a lot of Intellectually disabled people in general have autistic tendencies, but only some of them would also get diagnosed with autism. I certainly think Lennie does have autistic traits. What do you think? If you’ve read Of Mice & Men, feel free to give me your opinion in the comments.

Thank you for reading. I hope you enjoyed this article.  

 

12 thoughts on “Of Mice & Men – is Lennie autistic?

    • lesley cassaniti says:

      fOR sURE! IMMITATING,CHOCKING MOUSE, ATTRACTION TO ANIMALS, DEPARTING SOCIAL CONNCTIONS, SENSITIVITY TO FOO, DEPENDANCY ON SOMEONE MORE ALE,NOT MUCH OF A TALKER BUT HARD WORKING, CLUMSY.

  1. Lyra Heartstrings says:

    I was unsure of this myself, but after reading your article, I think I can say for sure that Lennie in autistic. I will continue to look into it, but if you have anything else, feel free to email me at forceunleasedxxx@gmail.com.

  2. Solsol says:

    I totally agree with you. I went to see the theatre version of the book today with my school and I could totally see autism and dyspraxia in Lennie, which made me relate to the character a lot. It was a good experience.

  3. Linda says:

    Thank you for your insights. You confirm my suspicion. It was his “flapping” his hands and also his lose grasp of social cues that made me wonder.
    Thank you again.
    Linda C.

  4. Grace says:

    I think that Lennie had a form of autism. He was similar to Dustin Hoffman’s character in Rain Man.

  5. mouse says:

    hey, i’m sure this is a super old article but i additionally noticed Lennie’s mimicry of George in the book as an autistic trait. i’m autistic, and i similarly think Lennie had autism. in the first chapter, he’s described mimicking George’s position on the ground, watching him to be sure its correct. this suggested the social knowledge didnt come instinctively to him, which is further supported by his actions in the story. Lennie is a fascinating character because of his neurodivergence. i also read his inability to control his movements (and killing the animals) as an expression of the clumsiness/poor motor skills we tend to develop. he also shows an inability to understand social mores (wrt the girl’s dress) which strongly resembles autistic behavior. this is a good article and i’m pleased to see other autistic people noticing the same things in this interesting and tragic story.

  6. Paris says:

    If Lennie is autistic then I relate to him a lot and that is so relieving to me. I absolutely love certain feelings that I can’t describe what they are. For example: I have a blanket I call “blanky” I’ve had it for 15 years because I’m emotionally attached to it, it calms me down and it feels nice against my cheek and between my fingers. I also love how soft my cat is.
    I tend to stim a lot aswell but I try to stop myself from doing it in public because it embarrasses me. When I’m focused I tend to rock back and forward. When I’m excited or happy I flap my hands (this has resulted in spraining my wrist m a n y times).
    My special interest is psychology (sociology) and mental health. I some how find a way of fitting every interesting detail into a conversation and remember everything I learn about psychology but when it comes to remembering dates or events I go kind blank. I don’t even remember my own mums birthday.

    After I read of mice and men (and cried for a good half hour) I related so damn much to how Lennie likes the feel of things and I didn’t even think about how he Stims.

    It’s all very interesting and sometimes it’s really nice to be able to relate to a character and not feel so alone 🙂

  7. Tony Held says:

    I, too, am autistic, and I also agree that Lennie was on the Spectrum, based on all of the above. In fact, I came across this article while doing a web search on this very subject. God bless you, John Steinbeck, for creating the first famous autistic character in literature!

  8. Martina Jeffers says:

    Doesn’t anyone think it’s a dangerous correlation to infer that Lennie is autistic or at least has traits? He does accidentally kill someone after all, I’ve been in a year 8 secondary school classroom when the teacher said Lennie was autistic and there were autistic students in the class, I felt uncomfortable and it bothered me.

  9. Hi Alex,

    I just came across this blog post as I’ve just finished reading Of Mice and Men for the first time for my book blog and I did actually just search whether Lennie had a condition such as autism as I noticed some of the traits mentioned above but after reading what you’ve written I am pretty much convinced it is the case.

    I also noticed when anything happens which is unexpected, like when Curley threatens him or even when his wife talks to him he seems to not like it an insist that he doesn’t want any trouble which could also I thought be due to him not liking changes to his routine but thank you for sharing your experiences as well in this post.

  10. Randall Stevens says:

    From 3 years later . . .

    Having a spouse and kids who are autistic, I certainly see a lot of the traits in him. Very kind and gentle, and very easy to make a connection with, but then he doesn’t recognize his strength or the cues others give out . Being unable to realize that he is loving the mice, puppy, or woman too hard is certainly an interesting cue.

    But the ability to be the hardest worker on the field is also an interesting clue, especially as a lot of people can’t work like that.

    I just wonder what Steinbeck’s influences were, this must have been a situation that happened at some point in time.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Organisations Alex has worked with

  • Autism Cymru
  • Chester University
  • Glyndwr University
  • National Autistic Society
  • St John's Ambulance
  • Welsh Government

Stay updated!

Enter your details below to sign up to Alex's email newsletter

© 2024 Alex Lowery - All rights reserved

Website by Cloud 10