In the summer of 1922, Nick Carraway moves to West Egg, a lavish area in Long Island, home of the so-called “new rich.” After an awkward dinner with his cousin Daisy, her husband Tom, and their friend Jordan Baker, Tom and Daisy hint that Nick should pursue Jordan romantically. Once home, Nick sees his neighbor Gatsby reaching out toward the water, but all Nick sees is a distant green light.
On their way into New York City, Nick and Tom stop at George Wilson’s garage located on the edge of the valley of the ashes to pick up Wilson’s wife and Tom’s lover, Myrtle. Tom, Nick, and Myrtle proceed to have an impromptu party at Myrtle’s sister’s Catherine’s apartment with her neighbors. The party grows increasingly wild as the group continues drinking, but it is abruptly ended after Tom breaks Myrtle’s nose for talking about Daisy, leaving Nick, in turn, to take a train back to West Egg.
Nick attends a party at Gatsby’s mansion where he runs into Jordan. The two overhear numerous rumors and fantastic stories concerning Gatsby, such as him having graduated from Oxford and once having killed a man in cold blood. Later, Nick meets Gatsby and remarks that Gatsby does not drink and prefers to separate himself from the festivities. After, Nick explains that there is more to his life than attending parties, and he proclaims that although Jordan is dishonest, he is still attracted to her.
While driving Nick into the city for lunch, Gatsby relates to Nick a series of stories about his life and accomplishments that Nick finds apocryphal and unrealistic. At lunch, Nick meets a shady associate of Gatsby’s named Meyer Wolfsheim, which leads him to believe that Gatsby acquired his wealth through nefarious and illegal means. After lunch, Nick encounters Jordan who tells him about Gatsby and Daisy’s previous relationship, and Nick agrees to set up a tea date with Daisy where Gatsby will attend without Daisy’s knowledge.
Initially, Daisy and Gatsby’s reunion at Nick’s house is awkward, but after Nick returns after leaving them alone for some time, he finds them elated. Gatsby invites Nick and Daisy back to his house where Daisy is brought to tears by Gatsby’s lavish lifestyle, his collection of English shirts, and how Gatsby has longed for her.
Nick recounts the true story of Gatsby’s life and how he came to gain his wealth. One Saturday night, Daisy and Tom attend one of Gatsby’s parties, even though Tom dislikes and is suspicious of Gatsby, but they leave after Tom makes disparaging remarks about Gatsby to Daisy. Nick finds a distraught Gatsby later that evening and reminds him that he cannot re-create the past he once had with Daisy.
One afternoon, Tom realizes that Gatsby and Daisy have feelings for one another and decides that the group should drive into the city. While at the Plaza Hotel, Tom becomes confrontational toward Gatsby, accusing him of lying and bootlegging, until eventually Tom forces Gatsby to drive Daisy home. On their way back to Long Island, Tom and Nick learn that Myrtle has been killed in a hit-and-run, which at first leads Nick to believe that it was Gatsby behind the wheel, until Nick approaches Gatsby and learns that Daisy was the one driving the car.
When Nick visits Gatsby the next day, Gatsby relates the story of how he fell in love with Daisy, and how the two were to marry after he returned from the war, but instead she married Tom. After Nick leaves Gatsby, the narrative shifts to Wilson who concludes that whoever killed Myrtle must have also been her secret lover and determines to seek out the owner of the car that hit her. Wilson finds Gatsby lying on an air mattress in the pool, shoots him, and then shoots himself.
Two years after Gatsby’s death, Nick explains the events that occurred after Gatsby’s murder, how even more outlandish rumors about him circulated, and how only a few people, including Nick and Gatsby’s father, attended Gatsby’s funeral, a stark contrast to the swath of attendees at Gatsby’s parties. Before Nick leaves New York for good, Tom tells Nick that he was the one who told Wilson that Gatsby was the driver and that he is happy that Gatsby is dead. On Nick’s last night in West Egg, he visits Gatsby’s mansion and muses about Gatsby’s dream and aspirations, as well as the American dream in general.