Author Gordie Lachance (Richard Dreyfuss) writes about a childhood incident when he and three buddies undertook a journey to find the body of a missing boy near the (fictional) town of Castle Rock, Oregon over Labor Day weekend in 1959.
Young Gordie (Wil Wheaton) is a quiet, bookish boy with a penchant for writing and telling stories. His parents, grieving the recent death of Gordie's older brother, neglect their youngest son. To cope, Gordie spends much time with his friends: Chris Chambers (River Phoenix), whose family are criminals and alcoholics; Teddy Duchamp (Corey Feldman), an eccentric and physically scarred boy; and Vern Tessio (Jerry O'Connell), who is overweight and timid, often making him the target of bullying.
Vern overhears his older brother, Billy (Casey Siemaszko), and Billy's friend, Charlie Hogan (Gary Riley), discussing Ray Brower, a young boy who was reportedly struck and killed by a train. They want to search for the body, but Gordie, Chris, Teddy, and Vern decide to follow the local rail line and find Ray first, and making them local heroes.
After a series of misadventures and much self-revelation, the boys locate the body. However, local hoodlum "Ace" Merrill (Kiefer Sutherland) and his gang including Chris' older brother "Eyeball" (Bradley Gregg), arrive in cars to claim the body and the credit for finding it. When Chris refuses to step aside, Ace attempts to kill him until Gordie threatens to shoot Ace with an M1911 pistol the boys brought with them. Outmatched, Ace and his gang retreat. The boys agree to report the body via an anonymous phone call to the authorities. They hike back to Castle Rock, bid each other farewell until they see each other in a few days at Junior High School.
The present-day Gordie writes that the friends drifted apart shortly thereafter. Vern married immediately after high school, had four children, and drives a forklift at a local lumber yard. Teddy tried enlisting in the army but was turned down due to his ear injury and impaired eyesight. He had served some time in prison and now does odd jobs around Castle Rock. Chris went on to college and became a lawyer. When attempting to break up a fight in a fast-food restaurant, he was fatally stabbed. Gordie finishes his memoir and takes his son and friend swimming.