Plot Summary Ponyboy Curtis and his brothers, Sodapop and Darry, belong to a group of poor teenage boys called greasers. Many of them have led hard lives already, and they are tough, angry and unforgiving. They often fight with the Socs, the group of wealthy, privileged boys who beat them up for fun. Ponyboy is shy and quiet. He gets good grades and likes to draw and read. His oldest brother Darry takes care of the family, since their parents died in a car crash. He is very serious, works most of the time, and is very hard on Ponyboy. He often yells at him to do better in school. Soda, the middle brother, is happy most of the time, and is very handsome and likable. The family often gets into fights over Ponyboy's future.
There are a few other members of their gang, including Dally and Johnny. Dally is one of the oldest, and certainly the toughest. He seems to enjoy being a criminal. He thinks the law is a joke. Johnny is even shyer than Pony. His parents abuse him, so he always seems scared. He is the pet of the group. Recently, Johnny was beat up very badly by a Soc wearing heavy rings. One night, Dally, Johnny and Pony meet two beautiful Soc girls, Cherry and Marcia. Cherry is smart and dreamy like Ponyboy, and they have a good conversation. On the way home, the girls' boyfriends catch them all together. It turns out that Cherry's boyfriend is Bob, the same boy who beat Johnny up. Later that night, Ponyboy comes in late and gets into such a fight with Darry that he runs to the park with Johnny just to get away from the house. Bob and his friends find Pony and Johnny there, and nearly drown Pony in a fountain. Terrified and angry, Johnny stabs Bob to death.
The two boys run to find Dally, knowing he will know what to do. He gives them money and tells them to hide in a church a short distance out of town. They stay there for a few days, reading to each other and talking about poetry and sunsets. (Johnny is thoughtful like Pony, and they get along very well.) When Dallas comes to find them, they tell him they want to turn themselves in. Before they can, however, the church catches fire and several small children are trapped inside.
Without thinking, the boys rescue them, and a large piece of burning wood falls on Johnny and breaks his back. Pony spends a short time in the hospital, then gets to go home. That evening there is a big fight between the greasers and the Socs, which the greasers win. One of Bob's friends does not fight, because he is sick of all the hate and anger around him. Cherry, meanwhile, has become a spy for the greasers, which pleases Ponyboy but also angers him: he doesn't want charity. After the rumble, Dally and Ponyboy go to see Johnny, who dies, telling Pony never to lose his spirit. Dally is overwhelmed, and runs out of the hospital. Soon after, back at home, Darry and the others get a phone call from Dally. He has robbed a liquor store. The boys run out to find him and hide him, but the police are chasing him. He pulls out a gun. Ponyboy knows it isn't loaded, but he knows that Dally knows the police think it is. The police shoot Dally, and Pony knows Dally wanted to die. Pony faints and stays sick for nearly a week. Ponyboy is so upset by Johnny's death that for weeks he pretends to himself (and everyone else) that he himself killed Bob, and that Johnny is still alive. After the trial, however, when the judge decides that Ponyboy did nothing wrong, Pony begins to admit to himself that Dally and Johnny are both dead. He decides to write about himself for a class assignment, so he can let other people know what life for a greaser is like. He is sure that there are many boys across the country just like him. He also recognizes, finally, that Darry loves him. He sees that Darry was just being overprotective when he yelled at him. He feels that, for the first time, he and his two brothers form a family.