Steinbeck begins the second chapter in much the same way as the
first-without people. The setting is now at the ranch in Soledad, in the bunk house of the workers. The door opens and an old one-handed caretaker (whose name we later learn is Candy) leads George and Lennie inside. Candy tells the two men that they were expected by the boss last night and he was mad when they weren't at the ranch in time to go out with the morning crew. Candy proves to be talkative and gives George and Lennie a little background of the ranch and the boss, who "gets pretty mad sometimes, but he's pretty nice" (p.22).
Candy is interrupted by the entrance of the boss himself and Candy shuffles past him and out the door. George explains to the stern boss the situation with the bus and the long walk, claiming it as the reason for their tardiness. The boss presses Lennie to answer after noticing that George is doing the talking for the both of them, but George persists, interrupting: "Oh! I ain't saying he's bright. He ain't. But I say he's a God damn good worker" (24). The boss then turns suspiciously to George and voices a concern, what turns out to be one of the primary concerns of the novel, a question that the reader should be considering: Why is George taking so much trouble for Lennie's behalf? What's in it for George? George replies: "He's my. . . cousin. I told his old lady I'd take care of him. He got kicked in the head by a horse when he was a kid" (25). This satisfies the boss, who tells them to go out to work in the evening and leaves them in the bunkhouse, vanishing from the novel forever. We learn form Lennie, who is confused by George's answer to the boss, that George was lying about being Lennie's cousin: "If I was a relative of yours, I'd shoot myself" (26), George admits.
George discovers Candy eavesdropping outside the door and he re-enters with his old sheepdog. George is initially angered by Candy's nosiness, but warms to the old man when Candy responds: "I ain't interested in nothing you was sayin'. A guy on a ranch don't never listen nor he don't ast no questions" (27). The next person to enter the bunk house while the three characters are chatting is the boss's son, Curley, "a thin young man with a brown face, with brown eyes and a head of tightly curled hair" (p.27). Curley is looking for his dad, but upon seeing George and Lennie he tenses as if preparing for a fight and addresses them coldly, confronting George when Lennie won't answer him: "By Christ, he's gotta talk when he's spoke to. What the hell are you gettin' into it for?" (28). After firmly establishing himself as the antagonist, Curley departs. Candy then informs the two that Curley is a boxer who doesn't like big guys because he himself is small and that he is just recently married to a pretty young woman who, according to Candy, has "the eye" (31). George voices his dislike of Curley and warns Lennie to avoid him at all costs.
The next character that Steinbeck places in the doorway of the bunk house for George and Lennie to meet is Curley's wife, young and made up very prettily. She claims to be looking for Curley, and George tells her, without looking at her, that Curley isn't in the bunkhouse. Lennie, however, stares fascinated at the pretty lady in the doorway, which Curley's wife seems to enjoy, "she smiled archly and twitched her body" (35). Curley's wife then leaves and George is more disturbed , realizing that Curley and his wife pose a serious threat to Lennie. He warns him to not even look at Curley's wife and Lennie says that he wants to leave, that "this ain't no good place" (36). George refuses to take heed of Lennie's ominous words, claiming that they need to stay and make a little money before they can leave.
But not everything is stacked against our two heroes. The final two characters to enter through chapter two's bunk house door prove to be friendly. First comes Slim, the wise leader of the workers, whose "authority was so great that his word was taken on any subject, be it politics or love" (37). Slim welcomes George and Lennie and doesn't question their traveling together. The next worker to enter is a powerful but amiable man by the name of Carlson, whom Slim introduces to George and Lennie. Slim and Carlson converse about a litter of puppies to which Slim's dog has just given birth. Carlson suggests that Candy replace his old, blind dog with one of Slim's puppies and the dinner bell rings and everyone scrambles toward its sound, leaving George and Lennie alone again. Lennie is excited at the prospect of perhaps getting one of Slim's puppies for himself and George promises him that he'll ask Slim for one. Before the two leave for dinner, Curley pokes his head in the bunkhouse again in search of his wife, a reminder of the trouble that waits for George and Lennie. Curley hurries off again when George coldly tells him that his wife was looking for him. They leave the bunk house and chapter two, and the final character to enter through the door is Candy's old dog, who wearily lies down on the floor.