A mysterious gunslinger named Shane drifts into a quiet western valley, and quickly finds himself drawn into a conflict between simple homesteader Joe Starrett and powerful cattle baron Rufus Ryker, who wants to force him and every other homesteader in the valley off his land. Shane accepts a job as a farmhand, but finds Starrett's young son Joey drawn to him for his strength and skill with a gun. Shane himself is uncomfortably drawn to Starrett's wholesomely charming wife, Marian.
As tensions mount between the factions, Ryker hires Jack Wilson, a cold-blooded and skilled gunslinger. After Wilson cold-bloodedly murders another homesteader who stands up to him, Joe Starrett decides to take it on himself to go kill Wilson and Ryker and save the town; however, he is stopped by Shane who insists on going himself.