Vern Tessio informs his three friends that he has overheard his older brother Billy talking with his friend Charlie Hogan, about the location of the corpse of Ray Brower, a boy from Chamberlain, a town 40 miles or so east of Castle Rock, who has gone missing, while going out to pick blueberries with one of his mother's pails. The four friends decide that they will find it so as to be famous.
The boys walk along the railroad tracks toward the presumed location of the corpse. Along the way, they trespass at the town dump and are chased by trash-man Milo Pressman's dog "Chopper". Milo insults Teddy's father, which causes Teddy to unleash his anger on Milo. Gordie and Vern are nearly run over by a train while crossing a bridge. While at a resting point, Chris predicts that Gordie will grow up to become a famous writer.
When they finally find the spot where the body lies, a gang of bullies led by John "Ace" Merrill arrive just after they do. The rest of the gang is composed of Vern's older brother Billy, Charlie Hogan, Chris' older brother Richard "Eyeball" Chambers, Norman "Fuzzy" Bracowicz, Jack "Jackie" Mudgett, and Vince Desjardins. The older boys are upset to see the four friends, and during an argument, Chris pulls a gun belonging to his father from his rucksack, that he took from his home and fires into the air and then threatens Ace, the leader of the gang. After a brief standoff Ace realizes that Chris is serious, and the teenagers leave. Having seen the body, the boys realize that there is nothing else to be done with it, and return home without further incident.
The older boys ultimately decide to phone in the location of the body as an "anonymous tip" and it is eventually found by the authorities as a result. Some days after the confrontation, Ace and Fuzzy break Gordie's nose and fingers and kick him in the testicles, and are on the verge of harming him more seriously when they are run off by Gordie's neighbor, Aunt Evvie Chalmers. Chris's brother breaks his arm and "leaves his face looking like a Canadian sunrise". Teddy and Vern get less severe beatings. The boys refuse to identify their assailants to the authorities, and there are no further repercussions.
The narration then goes into fast-forward. It describes the next year or so briefly, stating that Teddy and Vern drift off, befriending some younger boys. In high school, just as Chris predicted, Gordie begins taking college-preparation courses. Unexpectedly, so does Chris. In spite of abuse from his father, taunts from his classmates and distrust from teachers and school counselors, he manages to be successful with help from Gordie.
The final two chapters describe the fate of Gordie's three friends, none of whom survive past young adulthood. Vern is killed in a house fire after a party. Teddy, while under the influence of alcohol, crashes his car and he and his passengers are killed. Chris, who became an outstanding high school and college student and was in his second year of law school, is stabbed to death after trying to stop an argument in a fast-food restaurant. Gordon, the only survivor, continues to write stories through college, and publishes a number of them in small literary journals and men's magazines. His first novel becomes a best-seller, and a successful film. At the time of writing about the events in 1960, he has written seven novels about the supernatural. Gordon is also revealed to be a veteran of the Vietnam War and the counter-culture of the 1960s, occasonally referred to in the flash-forward narratives during the main story.
References to Stephen King's works
- Another story from Different Seasons, Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption is referenced in this story; Shawshank is described as one of Maine's state prisons.
- Ray Brower, the boy who went missing and the reason Gordie, Chris, Teddy, and Vern took the camping trip to Back Harlow Road, is from Chamberlain, which is the setting for the King's first novel Carrie. Carrie, which takes place over ten years later but was written eight years earlier, features a reference to a Teddy Duchamp, but he is clearly not the same person as the Teddy of the novella.
- Jerusalem's Lot, from the novel Salem's Lot is referenced when the boys first listen to Gordie's Lard Ass story.
- The novel Cujo is referenced when Gordie compares the dog Chopper to Cujo. Aunt Evvie Chalmers is a minor character in Cujo, which is set twenty years later.
- A Constable Bannerman is mentioned in the story. It does not appear that the constable is same Sheriff George Bannerman who appears in Cujo and The Dead Zone.
- Ace Merrill and Vern Tessio later appear in "Nona" a short story from the collection Skeleton Crew.
- Chapter nineteen includes an unnerving encounter with a Wendigo, making similar sounds to those described in Pet Sematary.
- Ace Merrill also appears in the last King novel set in Castle Rock, Needful Things, as Mr. Gaunt's employee. Ace remembers the happenings of The Body'. Aunt Evvie appears again in a flashback narrative told from the perspective of her niece Polly, one of the major characters in the story.
Accusation of plagiarism
In Lisa Rogak's unauthorized biography Haunted Heart: The Life and Times of Stephen King, a friend of King's, George McLeod, claimed that King had cribbed the idea from a short story McLeod had written, but her claims are disputed by King. McLeod requested a portion of the royalties from The Body and Stand by Me; King refused. McLeod sued, which ended their friendship. Since then, King has refused his fans’ requests to read their manuscripts for advice; King has claimed that he is concerned that there may be further accusations of plagiarism.