The ranch where “Of Mice and Men” is set is an all male environment, save for just one woman. This of course leads to competition and men judge others on how masculine they are.
Slim is kind of presented as the masculine ideal- possibly an embodiment of what Steinbeck considers manly. He’s described as “the prince of the ranch,” suggesting that other men look up to him as this. It may be because of his strength and skill as a skinner, which in a practical world were admirable qualities, or it could be the natural authority he seems to have. He certainly doesn’t try to be manly, as some characters do- Candy says that “Slim don’t need no high heeled boots”, suggesting that he makes no effort to create this “masculine ideal” persona. Despite all this, Steinbeck uses some quite feminine language in his description of Slim- he compares his hands to “those of a temple dancer” and he has long hair. This could be Steinbeck almost undermining the aura of masculinity he creates around Slim to show that he might not be all he’s cracked up to be. However, Steinbeck may be telling us that someone who’s truly masculine doesn’t have to be butch but can have elements of the feminine.
Carlson is pretty masculine too. He’s described as “powerful” which was probably viewed as masculine at the time and he also demonstrates his supposed toughness when he shoots Candy’s dog.
Curley certainly tries to be masculine but it doesn’t always work on the other men. He wears high heeled boots which seem to be laughed at by the others and is constantly described as little or short. This may be Steinbeck re-enforcing Curley’s lack of masculinity and toughness. Curley’s “glove fulla Vaseline” is also the object of a few jokes although Curley seems to have been bragging about it. His boasts about “keeping that hand soft for his wife” may also be a boast that he is the only man on the ranch (that we know of) who is married- however, as Steinbeck has this glove used against Curley in the fight scene as an insult, the author may be suggesting that this isn’t a very masculine thing at all. Despite all this, Curley is tough, and Steinbeck uses many references to fighting when he describes him, such as his hands closing “into fists” which may be a reminder of his toughness. The other guys seem to recognise this, as he’s often described as “handy” – but when he actually gets into a fight, he doesn’t come…