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The story opens with Pony walking home alone from a movie; he is stopped by a gang of Socs who beat him up. The Socs badly injure and threaten to kill Ponyboy; however, some of his gang show up nd run the Socs off.
Pony, Dallas Winston (Dally) and Johnny Cade, go to the drive-in movie. There they meet up with Sherri (Cherry) Valance and her friend Marcia, who have left their Soc boyfriends at the drive-in. Ponyboy and Johnny offer to walk the girls home, but along the way, the girls' boyfriends reappear and threaten to fight the greasers. Cherry stops the fight from happening, and the girls leave with their boyfriends.
Pony and Johnny go to a vacant lot to hang out before heading home where they fall asleep. When Johnny wakes Pony up it's 2 a.m, way past his curfew. Pony runs home and Darry is waiting up. Darry is furious with Pony and he hits him. Pony runs out of the house and returns to the lot to find Johnny. They go to the park to cool off before heading back home.
At the park, the Socs reappear. The Socs grab Ponyboy and shove him face into the fountain, holding him under the water. Johnny pulls his switchblade and kills the Soc, Bob. Ponyboy and Johnny find Dally for help in running away to avoid being arrested for murder. He gives them directions to a hideout outside of town.
Hiding in an abandoned church, Dally shows up says Cherry Valance is helping them out against the Socs. Johnny decides he wants to turn himself in. They discover the church is on fire with kids trapped inside. Pony and Johnny race inside and rescue the kids. When the roof collapses Ponyboy escapes, but a piece falls on Johnny breaking his back.
The boys are taken by ambulance back to town, where Pony reunites with his brothers. Johnny dies of his injuries. Dally is overcome with grief, and he robs a grocery store. He flees the police and they chase him to the lot. Dally pulls a "black object" from his waistband and the officers shoot him. The violent events traumatizes Pony, but he deals with his grief and frustration by writing.
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