The fable follows Tod from his first contact with humans as a kit and Copper from his first encounter with Tod. They are living in a changing world; the wilderness present at the beginning of the book gradually gives way to a more urbanized setting, causing problems for Copper, his Master, and Tod.
Copper's chapters focus on his relationship with his Master as he assists him in hunting, primarily for Tod; Tod's actions kill the Master's favorite dog early in the novel. Tod's chapters focus on his life as a wild fox, avoiding death both natural and man-made while attempting to father pups. The novel ends with the death of both main characters. Tod's lifeless pelt is hung and the hunter kills Copper with his shotgun.