No Country for Old Men is set in 1980 in the barren West Texas landscape along the U.S./Mexico Border. The novel opens with a monologue delivered by Sheriff Ed Tom Bell, a WWII veteran and sheriff of Terrell County, in which he speaks about the evolving evil in America and his struggle to reconcile the changes he is witnessing in society. This monologue, and those that follow, establish several of the novel’s themes.
The narrative begins with Vietnam veteran, Llewellyn Moss. Moss is hunting antelope when he stumbles upon a drug deal gone terribly wrong. He discovers a dying Mexican man in a truck packed with a large quantity of heroin. The man begs for water, but Moss leaves to search for the man he suspects survived the carnage. He finds the man lying dead beside a briefcase packed with 2.4 million dollars. Moss takes the briefcase, and returns home to his wife Carla Jean. Later that night he wakes with a feeling of remorse, and returns to the scene to bring the dying man some water. When he arrives, he finds the man has been shot and killed. Meanwhile, a pair of drug dealers discovers his truck. A chase ensues, but Moss escapes by jumping into a river. He realizes that the men will track him using the information from his truck, and understands they will never stop looking for him. Returning home, Moss tells Carla Jean she needs to go to Odessa and stay with her mother. She leaves for Odessa, and Moss goes on the run.
Sheriff Bell and his deputies begin their investigation of the botched drug deal and several connected murders. Bell, who is haunted by the death of his men in WWII, makes it his mission to protect Moss and Carla Jean, while bringing justice to the criminals involved. Meanwhile, Chigurh, a ruthless hit man who uses a slaughterhouse bolt gun used to kill cattle as his weapon of choice and often flips a coin to determine whether a person lives or dies, is hired to track Moss and the drug money. A deadly game of cat and mouse begins, in which Moss uses his survival skills and military expertise to evade Chigurh and the Mexican drug dealers who have been sent out to recover their money.
Chigurh uses a tracking device linked to the briefcase holding the money to find Moss. A shootout occurs in Eagles Pass, in which both Chigurh and Moss are wounded. The shootout continues in the center of town, involving Moss, Chigurh, and several Mexican drug dealers who arrive on the scene. Moss barely escapes over the Mexican border, but before crossing the bridge into Mexico, he tosses the drug money over the bridge into a patch of river cane beside the Rio Grande. Moss wakes up in a Mexican hospital and finds Carson Wells sitting beside him. Wells has been hired to stop Chigurh and recover the briefcase. Wells, a Vietnam veteran like Moss, but Special Forces, tries to reason with Moss about the danger he is in, but Moss believes he can handle the situation on his own. Wells gives Moss his business card and leaves. Meanwhile, Sheriff Bell continues to search for Moss. He visits Carla Jean in Odessa and asks her for any leads on Moss. She refuses to help him, stating that Moss can take care of himself, but Bell is not so sure. He tells her to contact him if he hears from Moss.
Wells returns to Eagles Pass, and explores the town, looking for clues. When he gets back to his motel, Chigurh is waiting for him. After a short exchange, Chigurh kills him. Meanwhile, Moss calls Carla Jean from Mexico and tells her she needs to take her grandmother and go to El Paso. After he calls Carla Jean, Moss calls Wells’ phone, but Chigurh answers. Chigurh tells Moss if he turns over the money he will spare Carla Jean, but Moss refuses. Moss, still injured, crosses back to the U.S. and retrieves the money from the bank of the river. He begins heading west toward El Paso where Carla Jean is waiting. He picks up a young hitchhiker along the way to help him drive. They are caught by the Mexican drug dealers at a motel in Van Horn, and killed. Later, Chigurh arrives and finds the money, which he returns to its owner.
Though Moss has been killed and the money returned, Chigurh continues hunting Carla Jean. Chigurh catches Carla Jean in her grandmother’s house, and kills her. While driving away, Chigurh is struck by a car that runs a stop sign. Chigurh buys a shirt from a boy named David DeMarco, and leaves the scene. Demarco and a friend steal the gun used to kill Carla Jean from the seat of Chigurh’s truck.
A few months later, Bell visits his Uncle Ellis and seeks advice on the guilt he feels about his experience in WWII and his failure to solve the crimes in his community. He talks about quitting his job as sheriff. When he returns home, he receives a call informing him about the discovery of the gun used to Kill Carla Jean. He questions DeMarco, but the young man is unhelpful. At this point in the narrative, Bell feels defeated by the situation. He decides to retire, a decision supported by his wife Loretta. The narrative ends with Bell’s resignation, a symbolic surrender to the overpowering forces of evil that will continue to reign in the world.