The novel starts out when Jake Barnes, Frances Coyne, and Robert Cohn are dining together. Jake suggests that he and Cohn go to Strasbourg together, because he knows a girl there who can show them around. Frances kicks him under the table several times before Jake gets her hint. After dinner, Robert follows Cohn to ask why he mentioned the girl. He tells Robert that he cant take any trip that involves seeing any girls. Robert gains a new confidence when he returns from a trip to New York where the critics praised his first novel.
Women threw themselves at him, and he also won several undred dollars playing bridge with his New York connections. He has also been seized with a desire to go to South America. He feels that he is not living his life to the fullest, and he unsuccessfully tries to persuade Jake to go with him, offering to pay for everything. Jake tells him that only bull-fighters live their lives to the fullest. But Jake just tells him that he cant escape his misery by moving from one place to another. While sitting alone in a cafe later that evening, Jake catches the eye of a pretty girl named Georgette.
Jake thinks it would be nice to have dinner with someone, so they take a cab to find a restaurant. Georgette makes a pass at him, and Jake explains that he got a wound in the war that makes it impossible for him to have sex. They agree that the war was a horrible thing, and that it never should have been fought. When they get to the restaurant, some of Jake’s friends see him and invite him to a dancing-club with Georgette. Lady Brett Ashley arrives with a group of men that are wearing jerseys. Cohn asks Jake to have a drink, and Brett joins them.
Cohn immediately becomes infatuated with her, and tries unsuccessfully to persuade her to dance with him. But Jake and Brett end up leaving the club together. Once they get into a taxi, Brett tells Jake that she is miserable. Jake kisses her, but she tells him to stop. They love one another, but Brett wont have a romantic relationship because Jake cant have sex. They go to a cafe to drink. When they get there, they meet some acquaintances, and get introduced to Count Mippipopolous. Jake leaves to return home for the night. Other people make a bigger deal of Jake’s wound than he does.
He thinks that it never would have bothered him very much if he had never met Brett. He begins to cry before drifting off to sleep. After four in the morning, Brett wakes him up, making a lot of oise while trying to get past the doorkeeper. The Count is waiting outside in his car. Brett reports that he offered her ten thousand dollars to go to Biarritz with him, but she turned him down. She wants Jake to go out with them, but he says no. He tries to get her to stay by kissing her, but she wont. They make a date for the next day. Cohn meets Jake at his office to have lunch.
He asks about Brett, and Jake says that she is a drunk and she is going to marry Mike Campbell, a Scotsman who will be rich someday. Cohn is annoyed because Jake will not describe Brett in a positive way even hough he know that Jake is in love with her. Later on that day, Brett misses their date. Cohn finds Jake again later, and they sit down in a cafe where Frances finds them. She asks to speak to Jake alone. Cohn has refused to marry her. She is scared that no man will marry her now. Jake tries to remain neutral. She mentions that Cohn has paid her two hundred pounds to go to England, but she had to argue it out of him.
In a fake cheerful manner, she describes the unpleasant visits with her “friends” in England dont really want her around. The Count and Brett visit Jake. Jake asks why she missed their date. Jake doesnt believe she forgot it out of drunkenness. Brett offers to send the Count away. Jake tells her no, so she sends him for champagne. Jake asks why they cant live together. She says she will make him unhappy with all of her affairs. She then tells him that she is leaving for San Sebastian because it’s better for both of them. Jake walks Brett to her hotel.
She doesnt want him to come up to her room, but they do kiss several times before she pushes him away. Jake receives a note from Cohn reporting that he has gone to the country, and Frances has left for England. Jake’s friend Bill Gorton arrives from the US. Him and Jake are going to Pamplona for a party. Bill visits Jake before leaving to see Budapest and Vienna. When he returns, he remembers very little of his four days in Vienna. While Jake and Bill look for a restaurant, they see Brett get out of a cab. Later, they meet Brett and Mike at a cafe. Mike continually mentions how beautiful Brett is.
He wants to return to their hotel early, so Jake and Bill leave so they Mike and Brett can be alone. Brett and Mike want to go with Bill and Jake to Spain. So, Jake gives Brett some information about how to meet up with them in Spain. When Jake and Bill meet up with Cohn in Spain, he is nervous because he does not know if Bill and Jake know about his fling with Brett in San Sebastian. Cohns know-it-all attitude really bugs Bill and Jake. It is totally obvious that Cohn still has a thing for Brett, so Jake goes with him to pick her up from the train station, just to irritate him.
But, Mike and Brett are not on the train. Jake receives a telegram from Brett and Mike telling him they have stopped in San Sebastian. He doesnt show Cohn because he wants to annoy him. He is blindly jealous of Cohn, but he begins to hate him. Bill and Cohn stay in the cafe until late, but Jake goes to ed early. They plan to take a bus to Burgette to go fishing, but Cohn decides to stay behind and wait for Brett and Mike. He thinks they thought he was going to meet them in San Sebastian. When Jake is alone with Bill, Bill tells him that Cohn told him about his plans to meet Brett secretly.
The passengers on the bus pass around a wine-skin. When the bus stops, Bill and Jake buy some drinks. Some passengers buy them more drinks. When they arrive in Burgette, the inn-keeper charges them a lot for the room. When they learn that the wine is included, they drink several bottles. The next day, while they are fishing, Bill asks Jake about his feelings for Brett. Jake admits that he loves her. Jake receives a letter from Mike telling him that Brett passed out on the train, so they stayed in San Sebastian for three days. Cohn sends a telegram saying that he will arrive in Burgette on Thursday.
Bill and Jake decide to go back to Pamplona that night. Then they go get drunk. When they arrive in Pamplona, the innkeeper tells Jake that his friends have arrived. Jake and Bill find Brett, Mike, and Cohn in a cafe. After watching the bulls for a while, they go to a cafe and get drunk. Mike akes a few remarks about Cohn following Brett around. Mike yells at Cohn for not knowing when he is not wanted. Bill leads Cohn away, and things calm down. After that, everyone has a nice, pleasant supper with lots of wine. On July 6 at noon, exploding rockets announce the beginning of the fiesta.
Everything becomes unreal in the seven days of non-stop drinking, dancing, and music. The exploding rocket announcing the release of the bulls wakes Jake at six o’clock. From the balcony, Jake watches the crowd run with the bulls in hot pursuit toward the bull-ring. After the bull fight, Brett marvels at the bull-fighter Pedro’s skill. Later that night, Jake finds his friends eating dinner in the hotel dining room. Pedro is there also. Jake and Pedro discuss bull-fighting. Pedro is modest, but extremely passionate about his work. Brett bugs Jake to introduce them to Pedro.
And once he does, Brett completely ignores Jake. After Pedro leaves, Mike begins to insult Cohn again. Jake drags Mike way from the table to prevent a fight. On the last day of the fiesta, Brett asks Jake if he still loves her. After he tells her that he does, she confesses that she is in love with Pedro. She tells him that she feels like a bitch because she always gets what she wants. So then they find Pedro in a cafe. When he comes to their table, Jake invites him to sit down. Pedro knows there is an attraction between him and Brett. Jake leaves them alone.
And when he returns to the cafe, they are gone. Jake meets Mike and Bill after they have been kicked out of a cafe for almost starting a fight. Cohn approaches Jake and demands to know where Brett is. Jake refuses to tell him. But then Mike tells him. Cohn, Mike, and Jake all get into a fight. Cohn betas them both up. When Jake returns to the hotel, Cohn begs him so accept his apology. Jake shakes his hand, but he wont forgive him. The next day, Jake fins out that Cohn found Brett and Pedro. He beat Pedro, and Brett was really mad at him. So, Cohn finally leaves Pamplona.
Brett meets everyone at a cafe the next day. She tells everyone that Pedro looks pretty bad after his beating, but he plans to bull-fight anyway. Mike is really upset that Brett doesnt want to be with him anymore. Brett draws Jake away from the cafe as Mike overturns the table, dumping beer and food all over the floor. Brett suggests they go into a church because she wants to pray for Pedro, but she becomes nervous and wants to leave not long after they enter. Brett goes to sleep in Pedro’s room, and Jake checks on Mike. Mike is passed out on his bed in a drunken state of unconsciousness.
The last bull-fight of the fiesta is Pedros. He sends his cape to Brett to hold during the fights. close to the bull is legendary. The crowd loves Pedro’s style of natural talent. Pedro faces the bull that killed the man the morning before. After he kills the bull, its notched ear is cut off. He gives it to Brett. Jake and Bill drink in a cafe afterward. Jake is depressed because Brett is in love with Pedro, so he gets really drunk. He finds Mike sitting in his hotel room in the process of getting drunk. Brett left Pamplona with Pedro on a train. The next day, Mike, Bill, and Jake go to Bayonne.
They get drunk and drive to Saint Jean de Luz to drop Mike off. Jake says good-bye to Bill at the train station in Bayonne. Then Jake takes a train to San Sebastian. Not long after he gets there, he gets two telegrams, one forwarded from Paris and one forwarded from Pamplona. They are both from Brett. She wants him to come to Hotel Montana in Madrid because shes in trouble. When Jake gets to Madrid, Brett greets him with a kiss. She called Jake because she was not sure if she could make Pedro go away, and she did not have money to leave. Pedro offered her money, but she would not take it.
He wanted to marry her, so she would not leave him. She left Pedro because she did not want to ruin him. She wants to go back to Mike. Brett and Jake go to a bar and have several martinis before having dinner in a nice restaurant with several bottles of wine. She begs Jake not to get drunk. She assures him that he will be all right. They get a taxi to drive around town. Jake puts his arm around her, and Brett says, “Oh Jake, we could have had such a damned good time together. ” Jake replies, “Yes, isn’t it pretty to think so? ” And thats how the book ends.