Frank and Jerry Lee Flannigan are two down-and-out brothers who live a meager existence in Reno, Nevada. Both men are high school dropouts who live in cheap motel rooms, work at odd jobs for money, and drink heavily. One night, while driving drunk during a blizzard, Jerry Lee accidentally hits and kills a teenage boy on a bicycle. Although the accident is the boy's fault, there are no witnesses, and Jerry Lee is certain that the police will put the blame on him. He convinces Frank to leave town with him and flee to Montana. Along the way, Jerry Lee abandons Frank in Wyoming and then burns the car in a secluded Idaho forest. Both men return separately to Reno.
The police seem to take no interest in the case, so both men attempt to settle back into their Reno lives. Frank adopts an abused, half-frozen dog he finds during a snowstorm. Acting on a tip from a friend, he scrapes together $800 and bets it on the Tyson-Holyfield boxing match, winning more than $5,000. He also tracks down the family of the dead teenager and stands outside their home, watching them come and go. Jerry Lee, meanwhile, becomes consumed by guilt and attempts suicide, shooting himself in the leg. He survives and lands in the hospital. On the day of the Tyson-Holyfield fight, the police come to question Jerry Lee; they have discovered the burned-out wreck of his car in Idaho. Once again, Jerry Lee convinces Frank to flee Reno.
Frank uses his winnings to buy a used car. He leaves $1,000 at the home of the dead teenager, sneaks Jerry Lee out of the hospital, and heads to the town of Elko, Nevada to hide from the police. Frank's ex-girlfriend Annie lives in Elko, and he secretly hopes to run into her. But Jerry Lee's wounds are far from healed and he quickly becomes very sick.