Fences is divided into two acts. Act One is comprised of four scenes and Act Two has five. The play begins on a Friday, Troy and Bono's payday. Troy and Bono go to Troy's house for their weekly ritual of drinking and talking. Troy has asked Mr. Rand, their boss, why the Black employees aren't allowed to drive the garbage trucks, only to lift the garbage. Bono thinks Troy is cheating on his wife, Rose. Troy and Rose's son, Cory, has been recruited by a college football team. Troy was in the Negro Leagues but never got a chance to play in the Major Leagues because he got too old to play just as the Major Leagues began accepting Black players. Troy goes into a long epic story about his struggle in July of 1943 with death. Lyons shows up at the house because he knows it is Troy's payday. Rose reminds Troy about the fence she's asked him to finish building.
Cory and Troy work on the fence. Cory breaks the news to Troy that he has given away his job at the local grocery store, the A&P, during the football season. Cory begs Troy to let him play because a coach from North Carolina is coming all the way to Pittsburgh to see Cory play. Troy refuses and demands that Cory get his job back.
Act One, scene four takes place on Friday and mirrors scene one. Troy has won his case and has been assigned as the first colored garbage truck driver in the city. Bono and Troy remember their fathers and their childhood experiences of leaving home in the south and moving north. Cory comes home enraged after finding out that Troy told the football coach that Cory may not play on the team. Troy warns Cory that his insubordinant behavior is "strike one" against him.
Troy bails his brother Gabriel out of jail. Bono and Troy work on the fence. Bono explains to Troy and Cory that Rose wants the fence because she loves her family and wants to keep close to her love. Troy admits to Bono that he is having an affair with Alberta. Bono bets Troy that if he finishes building the fence for Rose, Bono will buy his wife, Lucille, the refrigerator he has promised her for a long time. Troy tells Rose about a hearing in three weeks to determine whether or not Gabriel should be recommitted to an asylum. Troy tells Rose about his affair. Rose accuses Troy of taking and not giving. Troy grabs Rose's arm. Cory grabs Troy from behind. They fight and Troy wins. Troy calls "strike two" on Cory.
Six months later, Troy says he is going over to the hospital to see Alberta, who went into labor early. Rose tells Troy that Gabriel has been taken away to the asylum because Troy couldn't read the papers and signed him away. Alberta had a baby girl but died during childbirth. Troy challenges Death to come and get him after he builds a fence. Troy brings home his baby, Raynell. Rose takes in Raynell as her own child, but refuses to be dutiful as Troy's wife.
On Troy's payday, Bono shows up unexpectedly. Troy and Bono acknowledge how each man made good on his bet about the fence and the refrigerator. Troy insists that Cory leave the house and provide for himself. Cory brings up Troy's recent failings with Rose. Cory points out that the house and property, from which Troy is throwing Cory out, should actually be owned by Gabriel whose government checks paid for most of the mortgage payments. Troy physically attacks Cory, then kicks him out of the house for good. Cory leaves. Troy swings the baseball bat in the air, taunting Death.
Eight years later, Raynell plays in her newly planted garden. Troy has died from a heart attack. Cory returns home from the Marines to attend Troy's funeral. Lyons and Bono join Rose too. Cory refuses to attend. Rose teaches Cory that not attending Troy's funeral does not make Cory a man. Raynell and Cory sing one of Troy's father's blues songs. Gabriel turns up, released or escaped from the mental hospital. Gabe blows his trumpet but no sound comes out. He tries again but the trumpet will not play. Disappointed and hurt, Gabriel dances. He makes a cry and the Heavens open wide. He says, "That's the way that goes," and the play ends.