Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter begrudgingly attends a party in Garden Heights with Kenya, a childhood friend with whom she shares an older half-brother, Seven. At the party Starr reconnects with Khalil, a close childhood friend. When shots ring out, Khalil and Starr run from the party together and Khalil offers to drive Starr home.
While in the car, Khalil explains rapper Tupac Shakur’s definition of the phrase Thug Life as “The Hate U Give Little Infants Fucks Everybody.” A police officer pulls Khalil over. A terrified Starr implores Khalil to do whatever the officer, whose badge number she notes is one-fifteen, says. One-Fifteen demands Khalil get out of the car, searches him, and then tells him to stay where he is while he walks back to his patrol car. When Khalil opens the car door to ask if Starr is okay, One-Fifteen shoots and kills him. One-Fifteen tells Starr not to move and points his gun on her until other officials and an ambulance arrive.
Later that night Starr overhears her parents, Lisa and Maverick, arguing with Lisa’s brother Carlos, a detective, about Khalil’s shooting. Carlos reveals that he is on the same force as One-Fifteen and defends his colleague’s actions, questioning why Starr was in the car with a “drug dealer.”
On Monday Starr returns to Williamson, the prep school she has attended for the past six years, but tells no one about the shooting. Things are tense with Hailey, her oldest friend at school, and have been ever since Hailey unfollowed Starr’s Tumblr after she posted a photograph of Emmett Till. Outside a classroom Starr sees her boyfriend Chris, who is white, but recoils when he reaches for her hand.
That afternoon Starr and Lisa arrive at the police station for Starr’s interview with detectives about the shooting. The detectives ask Starr whether Khalil was drinking, sold drugs, and or was in a gang. Lisa asks why it seems like they are putting Starr and Khalil on trial instead of One-Fifteen.
Khalil’s name appears on the news, along with the title “Suspected Drug Dealer.” At Williamson, Starr plays basketball with Hailey and another friend, an Asian-American girl named Maya. They ask Starr about Khalil, but she denies knowing him.
At Khalil’s funeral, Starr sees multiple people in “RIP Khalil” t-shirts. April Ofrah addresses the church and says she is with Just Us for Justice, an organization calling for police accountability. She tells the church that Khalil was unarmed at the time of his death. King, a local gang leader and Kenya and Seven’s father, arrives and lays a gray bandana across Khalil’s body, signaling he was a King Lord (a member of King’s gang). Starr is appalled that Khalil joined a gang.
That evening, protests erupt in Khalil’s name throughout Garden Heights. The police appear on television to say they have no reason to arrest One-Fifteen, and mention an unnamed witness who spoke to investigators.
Maverick and Starr go to the family grocery store and find DeVante, a local teen and King Lord, hiding from King. DeVante asks Maverick, who was once a King Lord too, for help getting out of the gang, and Maverick agrees. Starr learns Khalil’s case will be going in front of a grand jury. In preparation she and her parents meet with April Ofrah, who reveals that One-Fifteen allegedly mistook a hairbrush in Khalil’s car for a gun. She encourages Starr to use her voice to help Khalil.
Realizing how unsafe DeVante is in Garden Heights, Carlos agrees to take him in. Chris shows up unannounced at Carlos’s house, and Maverick is furious to learn that Starr has a white boyfriend. DeVante later tells Starr that King tried to get Khalil to become a King Lord, but Khalil refused; the bandana at the funeral was King’s way of saving face. DeVante further explains that Khalil only started selling drugs to pay back his mother’s debt to King.
Starr goes to Maya’s house, and they, along with Hailey, watch a television interview with One-Fifteen’s father. Starr is outraged when he portrays Khalil as dangerous. Hailey expresses sympathy for One-Fifteen, which angers Starr. After Hailey storms out, Maya confesses that Hailey has made racist comments to her too. She and Starr form a “minority alliance” to hold Hailey accountable for her prejudice.
Starr does an interview with a major television network, in which she gives an account of the Khalil she knew and calls out his unfair treatment by the media. She also dry snitches on King for being the biggest gang leader in Garden Heights. At prom Chris tells Starr he recognized her voice in the interview and knows she is the witness. Starr opens up to him about her life in Garden Heights.
The night before Starr testifies in front of a grand jury, someone shoots and throws a brick at the Carters’ house. In response, Maverick enlists the protection of his former gang mates. The next day, Starr begins her testimony in front of the grand jury. After a somewhat halting start, she is strengthened by the thought that Khalil needs her voice.
Two weeks later, Hailey tells Starr that the cops did the world a favor by killing Khalil and ridding the world of another drug dealer. The two get into a physical fight.
Carlos throws a barbeque to celebrate Seven’s birthday and graduation. Iesha, Seven’s mother, shows up unannounced and says that King has it out for the Carters ever since Starr snitched. Later, DeVante goes missing. Starr, Chris, and Seven find DeVante at Iesha and King’s house, huddled in pain from being beaten. Iesha distracts King as they escape.
The grand jury decides not to indict One-Fifteen and riots erupt throughout Garden Heights. At the protests, Starr, Seven, DeVante, and Chris see April Ofrah, who again tells Starr that her voice is her biggest weapon. Starr climbs atop a patrol car and begins a chant to honor Khalil’s life. Police tear-gas the protestors.
Starr and her friends get a ride from Maverick’s former gang members to the family store. While inside, it is set on fire. Maverick arrives and opens the back door so everyone can escape. King pulls up across the street and laughs. When the police and a firetruck arrive, Maverick tells them King started the fire. Soon, many neighbors join in to snitch on King. Maverick gains respect for Chris upon learning that he stayed with Starr all night through the riots. DeVante agrees to turn witness on King if it will mean putting him away for good, echoing the claim that his voice is his strongest weapon.
Later, The Carter family has moved to a new house in a safer neighborhood. Starr wakes in her new bedroom and looks at the poster of Tupac on her wall. Starr decides it is time to “un-fuck” everybody. The family goes to see the remains of the store. Mr. Lewis, their neighbor whose shop was also ruined, says he is retiring and wants Maverick to take over his own shop so he can expand and remain a good influence on Garden Heights. Kenya and Starr reconnect. Starr thinks about all the people killed by police brutality and promises to keep speaking up for racial justice.