Billed as the story of the quintessential American Dream, The Great Gatsby tells the tale of the mysterious Jay Gatsby who seeks to recapture the love of his life, Daisy Fay Buchanan. The story is set during the summer of 1922 on Long Island and Manhattan, and seen through the eyes of the less affluent Nick Carraway, an arguably innocent bystander.

Nick arrives from the Midwest to work in the bonds business in Manhattan. He takes a small bungalow out in West Egg, Long Island. Across the sound lives his fabulously wealthy cousin Daisy Fay Buchanan with her husband Tom and their small daughter. He visits her one afternoon and meets Jordan Baker, a professional lady golfer. She tells him Tom has a mistress in New York City. Nick and Jordan begin a relationship.

Next to Nick's bungalow is a vast mansion where lavish parties are held each weekend by the owner, one Jay Gatsby. One weekend, Nick is invited. He hears guests muttering that Gatsby is a bootlegger, a spy, a killer. He later meets Gatsby in his private quarters and finds him charming. 

Jordan tells him that Gatsby was Daisy's first love. When he went to fight in World War One, Daisy promised to wait for him. Instead she married Buchanan, dazzled by his riches. Since then, Gatsby has concentrated on building a fortune through racketeering in order to win Daisy back. At Gatsby's request, Nick invites Daisy to his bungalow and Gatsby 'drops by'. She is shocked. They begin an affair, rekindling their love.

Nick meets Tom's mistress, Myrtle Wilson, a working-class girl from Queens married to a mechanic called George who services Tom's cars. He keeps an apartment for her in Manhattan where Nick attends a party. Myrtle and Tom row about Daisy. Tom bloodies Myrtle’s nose.

One sweltering summer day, Daisy invites Nick and Jordan over for lunch and tells them to bring Gatsby. Tom does not know about their affair, but is suspicious all the same. Gatsby is shocked to see they have a child. The five decide to drive into Manhattan where the situation comes to a head. Gatsby and Tom argue viciously over Daisy. She flees the scene with Gatsby in his car.

Tom drives Nick and Jordan home. Approaching Wilson's garage, they see a crowd gathered. Myrtle has been killed in a hit-and-run accident. When someone describes the car, they realise it was Gatsby's. Tom repeats this to the distraught George.

Back in West Egg, Nick discovers from Gatsby that Daisy had been driving the car. Later that day, a grieving George Wilson arrives at Gatsby's mansion having walked several hours to get there. He shoots Gatsby dead before turning the gun on himself.

Daisy sends no word or flowers to Gatsby's funeral. Instead, she and Tom take off for Europe. Disgusted, Nick ends his relationship with Jordan and resolves to leave New York.