We find ourselves in the barn. It is Sunday afternoon (Lennie and George arrived on the ranch on Friday morning). All the men are participating in a horseshoe tournament. Lennie is alone in the barn with his puppy, which is dead. Lennie still strokes it sadly, saying, "Why do you got to get killed? You ain't so little as mice. I didn't bounce you hard" (93). He fears he has done a bad thing and that he won't get to tend the rabbits, the ultimate punishment.
Curley's wife finds Lennie alone and tries to start a conversation. Lennie stubbornly says that he is forbidden to talk to her, but she persists. She asks what Lennie has covered in the hay and Lennie reveals his dead puppy and she consoles him; she tells him not to worry about talking to her, that no one will notice because they're all playing horseshoes. Curley's wife continues talking to the woebegone Lennie, who does not listen, telling him of how lonely she is and how she dislikes Curley and how she twice missed an opportunity to become an actress and live in Hollywood and wear nice clothes-her equivalent to Lennie and George's dream of the farm and the rabbits.
Lennie, ignorant of her story, muses on the rabbits. When Curley's wife asks him what he likes so much about rabbits, Lennie says: "I like to pet nice things" (98). Curley's wife is initially frightened by this confession, but soon realizes that Lennie is not mean. She says that she is the same way and sometimes likes to sit and feel her own hair. She invites Lennie to feel how soft it is and the careful reader immediately recognizes the danger of this invitation, remembering the soft, dead mouse and the soft, dead puppy. Sure enough, Lennie enjoys the feel of Curley's wife's hair, but he likes it a bit too much. She tells him not to mess it up and jerks sideways, at which Lennie, in a panic, grabs on firmly. Curley's wife screams and Lennie, not wanting George to hear, covers her mouth and nose. As she continues to struggle, Lennie grows angry and orders her to be quiet, but she is too terrified to stop. Lennie shakes her in an effort to subdue her, but breaks her neck instead. Realizing that he has "done a real bad thing" (100), Lennie scoops some hay onto her dead body and creeps out of the barn with the dead puppy in his coat.
Candy enters the barn in search of Lennie, and finds Curley's dead wife. Horrified, he runs to get George, who is equally upset. Candy asks who did it, but George knows: "I should of knew," he says, "I guess maybe way back in my head I did" (103). Both men realize that Curley will want Lennie lynched and, even worse, that their dream of a place of their own has been shattered by Lennie's actions. George says sadly: "I think I knowed we'd never do her. He usta like to hear about it so much I got to thinking maybe we would" (103).
George says that Candy has to tell the rest of the men about it and George will pretend like he doesn't know what's going on, so that Curley won't think George was involved. Candy agrees and George leaves, and Candy hopelessly sheds tears of anguish over Curley's dead wife, whom he blames for all that happened. He then departs to go tell the others.
The men, George and Curley included, come in and gather around Curley's dead wife. Curley realizes that Lennie did it because everyone else was playing horseshoes. He furiously declares that he will kill Lennie, and urges the others to come with him. Carlson runs off to get the pistol that he used to kill Candy's old dog. Slim consoles George, but tells him that Curley will want Lennie killed. Carlson comes running back, claiming that Lennie stole his gun. Curley follows him with a shotgun and tells Carlson to take Crooks' shotgun. George weakly begs Curley not to shoot Lennie, but Curley refuses his request for mercy. The men leave and Curley makes George go with them to prove he had nothing to do with the killing of Curley's wife. They depart and Candy, whose last dream has died inside him, remains with Curley's dead wife.