In 1960s Tulsa, Oklahoma, sixteen-year-old “Ponyboy” Curtis leaves a movie theater, only to be harassed by a gang of wealthy boys nicknamed “Socs.” As they pin Ponyboy to the ground and hold a knife to his throat, they refer to him as a “Greaser” because of his slicked back hair and his low social class. Ponyboy’s older brothers, “Darry” and "Sodapop," come to his rescue. The Curtis boys have been orphans since their parents died in a railway accident. When they join their Greaser friends, the leader, ex-convict Dallas “Dally” Winston, vows revenge for the attack on Ponyboy. The following evening at a drive-in theater, Dally tries to seduce a Soc girl named Cherry Valance, but Dally’s young sidekick, Johnny Cade, stands up for the young lady. In return, Cherry and her friend, Marcia, invite Johnny and Ponyboy to join them. When Cherry and Ponyboy go to the concession stand, Ponyboy reveals that Dally isn’t the delinquent he pretends to be, and Cherry argues that life is hard for everyone, rich or poor. After the movie, Ponyboy tells Cherry that he is hated by his eldest brother, Darry. Just then, Cherry’s intoxicated boyfriend, Bob Sheldon, pulls up in his car and threatens the Greasers. As “Two-Bit” Matthews wields a switchblade knife, Cherry agrees to leave with Bob to prevent a fight, but confides to Ponyboy that she might fall in love with Dally one day. The Greasers return to Johnny’s house to find his parents embroiled in a violent argument, so Ponyboy takes Johnny to a nearby vacant lot, where Johnny cries that he wants to commit suicide. When Ponyboy returns home late, Darry is outraged and hits his brother. Frightened, Ponyboy runs away with Johnny. They stop at a park, where they are attacked by Bob Sheldon and his intoxicated friends. As the Socs shove Ponyboy’s head into a park fountain and nearly drown him, Johnny fights back with a switchblade and kills Bob. In their terror, the boys run to a squalid saloon to find Dally. He gives them a loaded gun, $50, and tells them to catch the 3:15 freight train to Windrixville, where there’s an abandoned church on Jay Mountain. Dally orders the boys to buy a week’s supply of food and hide out until he comes for them. The following morning, Ponyboy and Johnny find the church and rest. Ponyboy later awakens to find Johnny with a crate of food and a paperback copy of Gone with the Wind. He asks Ponyboy to read the novel aloud, insists they cut their hair with his lethal switchblade, and bleaches Ponyboy’s locks with hydrogen peroxide. In the coming days, Ponyboy reads Gone with the Wind and the friends play cards, wagering cigarettes. Ponyboy warns Johnny that their smoking could start a fire. One morning, at sunrise, Ponyboy recites Robert Frost’s poem “Nothing Gold Can Stay,” but admits he never knew what it meant. Sometime later, Dally pays the boys a surprise visit and delivers a letter from Ponyboy’s brother, Sodapop, who begs them to return home. Dally drives the boys to a Dairy Queen diner and announces there will soon be a “rumble” fight between Greasers and Socs to settle the score for Bob’s death. He also reports that Cherry Valance promised to testify in court that Johnny acted in self-defense, even though Bob was her boyfriend. Hearing the news, Johnny decides to turn himself in to the police, and is dismayed to learn his parents have not been looking for him. As Dally drives back to the church, the boys see it is on fire, and filled with children who have visited the site on a field trip. Ponyboy charges inside and Johnny follows. They lift the children out of the fire into Dally’s arms, but Johnny is knocked down by a burning beam. Dally jumps into the church to save Johnny as the roof collapses. At the hospital, Ponyboy is reunited with his brothers and Darry embraces his little brother with newfound affection. When they return home, Greasers Two-Bit and Steve Randle show off a newspaper headline, which hails Ponyboy, Johnny, and Dally as heroes. However, Johnny will be charged with manslaughter. When Darry, Sodapop, and Steve leave for their gas station jobs, Ponyboy and Two-Bit hitchhike to the hospital, but on the way they are confronted by a car packed with Socs. Two-Bit reminds the new Soc leader, Randy Anderson, that it is against the rules to cavort before that evening’s “rumble.” Still, Randy wishes to speak with Ponyboy privately. He commends Ponyboy for his heroism and admits he would not have had the courage to rescue the children. Randy laments that the Greasers will never be able to advance past their underprivileged social status, even if they win the rumble. As Two-Bit and Ponyboy continue to the hospital, they find Johnny in traction, covered in burns. When Johnny asks Two-Bit to buy him a copy of Gone with the Wind, Ponyboy stays behind and learns that Johnny does not want to die, even though he used to contemplate suicide. Later, in Dally’s hospital room, Two-Bit reports that Johnny is in bad shape. Enraged, Dally asks for a switchblade and thrusts the knife into his mattress, declaring the Greasers must win the rumble to honor Johnny. As Two-Bit and Ponyboy head home, they are met by Cherry Valance, who says the Socs have agreed to fight without weapons. Cherry mourns the death of her boyfriend, Bob, but admits she feels a connection to Ponyboy. He reminds her that the sunset appears the same to everyone, even if they live in different neighborhoods. That night, Socs and Greasers face off in a park. Dally escapes from the hospital, runs toward the boys, and initiates the rumble. After fighting in the pouring rain, the Socs retreat and Dally drives Ponyboy to the hospital so they can share the good news with Johnny. However, Johnny declares there is no point to fighting. Taking his last breath, Johnny refers to the Robert Frost poem and tells Ponyboy to “stay gold.” Distraught and furious over his friend’s death, Dally stumbles through town with an unloaded gun, looking for trouble, while Ponyboy returns home to report Johnny’s death. After Dally wields his gun to rob a store, the cashier fires his own weapon, and Dally is wounded. He telephones Ponyboy’s home, asking Darry to meet him in the park. As the Greasers race toward the park, they see Dally being shot dead by police officers. Sometime later, Ponyboy reads a letter that Johnny wrote before he died, explaining that “Nothing Gold Can Stay” is about preserving youth. He asks Ponyboy to relay this revelation to Dally, who has always been resolute in defying his innocence.