In the Wingfield apartment in St. Louis, the mother, Amanda, lives with her crippled daughter and her working son, Tom. At dinner she tells her daughter, Laura, to stay nice and pretty for her gentlemen callers even though Laura has never had any callers and expects none. Amanda remembers the time that she had seventeen gentlemen callers all on one Sunday afternoon. Amanda then tells Laura to practice her shorthand and typing. A few days later Amanda comes home from Laura's school after finding out that Laura had dropped out several months earlier. Amanda is shocked and wonders what they will do with their lives since Laura refuses to try to help and spends all her time playing with her glass menagerie and her old phonograph records. Amanda decides that they must have a gentleman caller for Laura, and Laura tells her that she has liked only one boy in her whole life, a high school boy named Jim.
When Tom goes out to the movies that night, Amanda accuses him of doing something else rather than going to the movies every night. They have an argument, and the next morning after Tom apologizes, Amanda asks him to find some nice gentleman caller for Laura and to bring him home for dinner. A few days later, Tom tells Amanda that he has invited a young man named Jim O'Connor home for dinner. Amanda immediately begins to make rather elaborate plans for the gentleman caller.
On the next night, Amanda oversees Laura's dress and adds some "gay deceivers" to the dress to make Laura more attractive. When she mentions the name of the gentleman caller, Laura realizes that it is possibly the same Jim on whom she had a crush in high school. She tells her mother that she might not be able to come for dinner if it is the same one. Amanda will have nothing to do with such foolishness, and even though Laura is sick when the gentleman caller arrives, Amanda forces her to open the door. And it is the Jim that she knew from high school. At dinner she is physically sick and has to be excused.
Later, Amanda sends Jim, the gentleman caller, into the living room to keep Laura company while she and Tom do the dishes. As Jim and Laura talk, she loses some of her shyness and becomes rather charming. Jim is attracted by Laura's quiet charms, but later after having kissed her, he must explain that he is already engaged. When Amanda reappears, Jim explains to her also that he is engaged and must go. Amanda is so stunned that she accuses Tom of deliberately playing a trick on them. The play ends with Tom some years in the future thinking back on his sister Laura whom he can never forget.