“I’ll try to teach you to read if you want,” Stanley offered. “I don’t know if I know how to teach, but I’m not that worn out today, since you dug a lot of my hole.” A big smile spread across Zero’s face.

Stanley and Zero’s friendship blossoms when Zero helps dig Stanley’s hole after the sunflower seed incident. Zero’s kindness softens Stanley and he agrees to help Zero learn to read. Zero’s smile at hearing Stanley’s offer symbolizes the theme of friendship as two boys, both struggling in a challenging world, find solace in each other. As the story continues, Stanley and Zero demonstrate the power of friendship as they help one another navigate obstacles, both transforming in the glow of the companionship, understanding, and trust they feel for each other.

He gathered his strength and for a brief second seemed to defy gravity as he took a quick step up the wall and, with Zero’s help, pulled himself the rest of the way over the ledge . . . Zero had deep gashes in both hands. He had held on to the metal blade of the shovel, keeping it in place, as Stanley climbed.

While Stanley and Zero try to survive their escape from Camp Green Lake by climbing the mountain to Big Thumb, their trust and reliance in each other deepens. Each suffers mentally and physically to help the other survive. Here, the narrator describes how Stanley and Zero literally lift and pull each other up a steep ledge, a metaphor for the role friends play in life. Zero even bleeds for Stanley as he holds onto the metal blade of the shovel to lift Stanley up, and later, Stanley carries Zero when he can no longer stand. Stanley and Zero epitomize the theme of friendship as they sacrifice for one another.

As Stanley stared at the glittering night sky, he thought there was no place he would rather be. He was glad Zero put the shoes on the parked car. He was glad they fell from the overpass and hit him on the head.

While Stanley and Zero stay at Big Thumb, doing well after their miraculous escape from the camp, Stanley reflects on his unusual feelings of happiness in this moment. For the first time in his life, Stanley has a true friend. Stanley also acknowledges that he feels glad that Zero put the stolen sneakers on the parked car because that action led to this moment and this friendship with Zero. Readers may infer Stanley’s feeling that the suffering he has endured was worth what he gained from it all: a true friend.