The beginning of the book introduces readers to several character - David, who is in France, his girlfriend Hella, who has returned to the United States, and Giovanni, who is preparing to be beheaded.
Soon, David begins to remember his first romantic encounter with another boy. He was pretty young, but a boy named Joey invited him to a sleepover. The two began kissing one another, but after it all happened, David felt embarrassed. At school the next day, he bullied Joey so that he could "regain his manliness".
David is now older and lives in Paris. He and a friend go to a gay bar and meet Giovanni, the new bartender there. Giovanni and David eventually have a sexual encounter in Giovanni's room.
David is again embarrassed, and he tries to find a woman with which to have sex to prove that he is not gay. He does, but this doesn't really make him feel any better. Giovanni and David talk about women in a very horrible way, saying that they all need men to live properly.
Guillame, the initial friend that took David to the night club, has been murdered, and the media blames it on Giovanni. David eventually has to witness his execution. Hella discovers that David is a homosexual and returns to America, saying that she knew it all along.