The nation of? Panem? consists of a wealthy Capitol and twelve poorer districts. As punishment for a past rebellion, each district must provide a boy and girl ("tributes") between the ages of 12 and 18 selected by lottery (the "Reaping") for the annual Hunger Games. The tributes must fight to the death in an arena and the sole survivor is rewarded with fame and wealth. In her first Reaping, 12-year-old? Primrose Everdeen? is chosen from District 12. Her older sister? Katnissvolunteers to take her place.? Peeta Mellark, a baker's son who once gave Katniss bread when she was starving, is the other District 12 tribute.
Katniss and Peeta are taken to the Capitol, accompanied by their frequently drunk mentor and past victor, Haymitch Abernathy. He warns them about the "Career" tributes who train intensively at special academies and almost always win.
During a TV interview with Caesar Flickerman, Peeta unexpectedly reveals his love for Katniss. She is outraged, believing it to be a ploy to gain audience support, as "sponsors" may provide in-Games gifts of food, medicine and tools. However, she discovers Peeta meant what he said.
The televised Games begin with half of the tributes killed in the first few minutes; Katniss barely survives ignoring Haymitch's advice to run away from the melee over the tempting supplies and weapons strewn in front of a structure called the Cornucopia. Peeta forms an uneasy alliance with the four Careers. They later find Katniss and corner her up a tree. Rue, hiding in a nearby tree, draws her attention to a poisonous? tracker jacker? nest. Katniss drops it on her sleeping besiegers. They all scatter, except for Glimmer, who is killed by the insects. Hallucinating due to tracker jacker venom, Katniss is warned to run away by Peeta. Rue cares for Katniss until she recovers.
Meanwhile, the alliance has gathered up all the supplies. Katniss has Rue draw them off, then destroys the stockpile by setting off the mines planted around it. Furious, Cato kills the boy assigned to guard it. Katniss frees Rue from a trap, then dodges a spear thrown by Marvel; it strikes Rue. Katniss kills Marvel, then comforts the dying Rue with a song. Afterward, she gathers and arranges flowers around the body. When this is televised, it sparks a riot in Rue's District 11. Panem President Snow summons Seneca Crane, the Gamemaker, to express his displeasure at the way the Games are turning out.
Since Katniss and Peeta have been portrayed as "star-crossed lovers", Haymitch convinces Crane to make a rule change to avoid further unrest. It is announced that tributes from the same district can win as a pair. Upon hearing this, Katniss searches for Peeta and finds him with an infected sword wound in the leg. She pretends to be deeply in love with him and gains a sponsor's gift of soup. An announcer proclaims a feast, where the thing each survivor needs most will be provided. Peeta begs her not to risk getting him medicine. Katniss promises not to go, but after he falls asleep, she heads to the feast. Clove ambushes her, pins her, and gloats. Thresh, the other District 11 tribute, kills Clove after overhearing her tormenting Katniss about killing Rue. He spares Katniss in Rue's memory. The medicine works, keeping Peeta mobile.
Foxface, the girl from District 5, dies from eating nightlock berries she stole from Peeta; neither knew they are poisonous. Without warning, Crane darkens the arena and unleashes a pack of hound-like creatures to speed things up. They kill Thresh. Katniss and Peeta flee to the roof of the Cornucopia, where they have to fight Cato. Katniss wounds Cato with an arrow and Peeta hurls him to the creatures below. Katniss shoots Cato to spare him a prolonged death. With Peeta and Katniss apparently victorious, the rule change allowing two winners is suddenly revoked. Peeta tells Katniss to shoot him. Instead, she gives him half of the nightlock. Before they can commit suicide, they are hastily proclaimed the victors of th
e 74th Hunger Games.
Haymitch warns Katniss that she has made powerful enemies with her display of defiance. She and Peeta return home, while Crane is locked in a room with a bowl of nightlock berries, and President Snow ponders the situation.