John Singer, a tall man with gray eyes, and Spiros Antonapoulos, an obese man of Greek descent, are always together. Both men are deaf-mutes. They live together in a small two-room apartment. Every morning they walk to work together.

Antonapoulos works for his cousin, Charles Parker, who owns a fruit store; Singer works in a jewelry store as a silverware engraver. They meet on the street at the end of each day to walk home together. At home, Singer always talks to Antonapoulos with his hands about all that had happened in his day. Antonapoulos sits back lazily, seldom moving his hands at all except when he wants to eat, sleep, or drink. Aside from praying, these are the only signs Antonapoulos ever makes with his hands.

Each evening, Antonapoulos cooks and then Singer does the dishes while Antonapoulos sits on the couch. Sometimes the two play chess in the evening, but after the first few moves Antonapoulos typically gets bored, so Singer works the game out for himself while Antonapoulos looks on drowsily.

The two men have no other friends; aside from when they work, they are alone together. The town in which they live is in the middle of the Deep South. The largest buildings in the town are cotton mills, which employ most of the town's residents. Most of the people in the town are very poor.

The years pass quietly until Singer is thirty-two and has lived with Antonapoulos for ten years. One day Antonapoulos becomes ill. Singer cares for his friend for a week; the Greek recovers physically, but is changed in other ways. After his illness, Antonapoulos steals items from shops, urinates against public buildings, and bumps into people on the street. Singer uses up his savings on bail and court fees for Antonapoulos's offences.

One afternoon in November when Singer goes to meet Antonapoulos, Charles Parker says he has arranged to have Antonapoulos taken to an insane asylum. Singer protests, but the decision has already been made. All through the next week Singer feverishly signs to his friend with his hands. Singer packs the best things for Antonapoulos and accompanies him to train station where Charles Parker is waiting.