Although Mitch had promised at graduation to keep in touch with Morrie, he has not. Over the years, he had lost touch with most of his college friends, as well as the man he had been in college, and the values he had upheld. He had abandoned his long-time dream of becoming a famous pianist after several years of failed attempts, and after the death of his favorite uncle who had taught him music, among many other life lessons. Mitch had admired his uncle very much, and had modeled himself after him. He had died a slow, painful death from pancreatic cancer, and watching him die had made Mitch feel helpless.
When his uncle asks Mitch if he will watch over his children after he has died, Mitch tells him not to talk of such things. Only a few weeks later, his uncle dies, and Mitch's outlook on life is forever changed. He now feels that the time is precious, and must be used to its fullest potential, which, at the time, he believes to be financial success. He earns a master's degree in journalism and takes the first job offered to him. Determined not to live the boring corporate life his uncle had led, Mitch avoids such repetition by taking various freelancing positions, and is constantly moving from city to city. When he is given a column by the Detroit Free Press, Mitch is swamped with money and success, but feels unfulfilled. He spends all of his time working, and never takes a moment to enjoy himself.
It is during this time that Mitch meets Janine, his future wife whom he marries after a seven-year courtship. He promises her that they will someday have a family, though he dedicates all of his time to his work and none to Janine or the family they had hoped to have. Mitch throws away the mail he receives from his alma matter, Brandeis University, and does not know about Morrie's illness until one night as he is flipping the channels on his television.
In March of 1995, Morrie is interviewed by Ted Koppel, the host of ABC-TV's news program, "Nightline." Koppel arrives at Morrie's house in West Newton, Massachusetts in a limousine, with his television crew behind him. Morrie is now confined to a wheelchair, as he cannot walk. Despite the progression of his illness, Morrie refuses to get depressed and writes small philosophies about accepting one's own death. Maurie Stein, a friend of his, sends some of these aphorisms to a Boston Globe reporter who publishes a feature story on Morrie. The article had prompted Koppel's visit.
Everyone is excited by Koppel's presence, though Morrie remains calm. He tells Koppel that he needs to ask a few personal, introductory questions before he will agree to do the interview. When Koppel concedes, Morrie asks him to mention something that is "close to his heart." Koppel mentions his children, and quotes Marcus Aurelius. He then asks Morrie about his show, which Morrie has seen only twice. When Koppel asks him what he had thought about it, Morrie tells him he had seemed like a narcissist. Koppel jokingly replies that he is too ugly to be a narcissist, and the men laugh.
During the interview, Morrie does not wear makeup or fancy clothes, as he does not want to convey the message that he is embarrassed by death and aging. He tells Koppel he wants to die with dignity, and live the rest of his life the way he wants to. Some mornings, Morrie says he cries out of anger and bitterness, but is renewed by his ambition to live. He accidentally calls Koppel "Fred" instead of "Ted," but quickly corrects himself. Morrie tells of his growing dependency on others, and admits that his worst fear is that someday, he will not be able to wipe himself after he has gone to the bathroom. By chance, Mitch sees this television program as he is flipping channels one night, a chance that serves as the catalyst for the reunion between him and his old professor.