The story opens on a family about to take a road trip. The Grandmother—who wants to convince her family to travel not to Florida, but to Tennessee—shows a newspaper article to her son, Bailey, and Bailey’s wife. The article is about a convict known as the Misfit, who has escaped federal prison and is believed to be headed toward Florida. The Grandmother says that she would never take her children near such a dangerous criminal, and that she “couldn’t answer to [her] conscience if [she] did.” Bailey and his wife ignore the Grandmother, and Bailey’s children, June Star and John Wesley, mock her.
The next morning, the Grandmother is packed and ready to leave, sitting in the car before anyone else. Unlike the rest of the family, she is dressed up, wearing a fancy hat. They leave, headed south for Florida. In the car, the children fight, and to keep them quiet the Grandmother tells them a story about a suitor she had when she was younger.
The family stops at the Tower, a filling station and dance hall run by Red Sammy Butts. The Grandmother makes conversation with Red Sammy about how society has gotten worse over the years. They say that it’s impossible to trust anyone any more, and Red Sammy notes that “a good man is hard to find.”
After the family drives off from the Tower, The Grandmother tells the family of a plantation nearby that she had visited once when she was younger. Knowing that Bailey will not want to visit, the Grandmother lies, saying there was a secret panel in the wall somewhere with silver behind it. After the kids throw a tantrum about wanting to see the house, Bailey agrees, and drives down a deserted dirt road looking for the house. Just as Bailey is ready to turn around, the Grandmother realizes that the house she is remembering is actually hundreds of miles away, in another state. She is so distressed by this thought that she accidentally lets her cat—which she had snuck into the car—out, and it jumps onto Bailey.
Bailey swerves and the car crashes. It car rolls over and rests again upright in a “gulch off the side of a road.” Another, “hearse-like” car approaches. Three men get out, each of them carrying a gun.
One of the men inspects the family’s car to see how easy it would be to fix. As Bailey attempts to explain their situation, the Grandmother interrupts, saying to one of the three men, “You’re the Misfit.” The man admits that he is the Misfit, but says that it would have been better if she had not recognized him.
The Misfit instructs his two henchmen, Hiram and Bobby Lee, to take Bailey and John Wesley over to the woods. Two pistol shots are heard. The Misfit has a lengthy conversation with the Grandmother about his past, his time in prison, and his nihilistic outlook on the world. Meanwhile the rest of the Grandmother’s family is taken to the forest and shot. The Misfit continues speaking with the Grandmother, and she repeatedly insists that he must be a good person at heart and would never shoot an “old lady.” Suddenly she says to him, “Why you’re one of my babies. You’re one of my own children!” and then reaches out and touches him on the shoulder. The Misfit jumps back at her touch and shoots her in the chest three times.
The henchmen return from the woods, and the Misfit picks up the Grandmother’s cat. Speaking of the Grandmother, the Misfit says “She would of been a good woman… if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life.”