The film opens with seventeen-year-old Michael (“Big Mike”) Oher talking to an NCAA investigator. Then a flashback ensues.
Michael has been in foster care with different families in Oslo, Tennessee, due to his mother’s drug addiction. Every time he is placed in a new home, he runs away. His friend’s father, on whose couch Mike had been sleeping, asks Burt Cotton, the coach of Wingate Christian School, to help enroll his son and Mike. Impressed by Mike’s size and athleticism, Cotton gets him admitted despite his poor academic record. Later, Michael is befriended by a younger student named Sean Jr. (“SJ”). SJ’s mother, Leigh Anne Tuohy, is a strong-minded interior designer and the wife of wealthy businessman Sean Tuohy.
The school staff tell Michael that his father has died, apparently due to an accident. Later, Leigh Anne and Sean watch their daughter Collins playing volleyball. After the game, Sean notices Michael picking up leftover food on the bleachers.
One night, Leigh Anne notices Michael walking alone on the road, shivering in the cold without adequate clothing. When she learns that he plans to spend the night huddled outside the closed school gym, Leigh Anne offers to let him sleep on the couch in the Tuohy home.
The next morning, Leigh Anne notices that Michael has left. Seeing him walking away, she asks him to spend the Thanksgiving holiday with her family. Slowly, Michael becomes a member of the family. Later, Leigh Anne drives Michael to his mother’s house. He sees an eviction notice posted on the door, and his mother is gone.
Leigh Anne’s friends wonder what she is doing; they suggest that Collins might not be safe around Michael, but Leigh Anne rebukes them. She later asks Collins how she feels about it. Collins replies that they cannot just throw Michael out. When Leigh Anne seeks to become Michael’s legal guardian, she learns he was taken from his drug-addict mother when he was seven and that no one knows her whereabouts. She is also told that, although he scored poorly in a career aptitude test, he was ranked in the 98th percentile in “protective instincts”. When Michael appears to be hesitant to use his strength and size while learning to play football, Leigh Anne tells him, as an offensive lineman, he must protect his quarterback. From that moment, Michael improves drastically, well enough to play at the college level. However, to do that, he must meet the minimum grade point average to get in so the Tuohys hire a private tutor for him, the outspoken and kind Miss Sue.
Leigh Anne has a face-to-face conversation with Michael’s mother about adopting him. Although she seems unresponsive in the beginning, the mother finally wishes Michael the best.
Michael is heavily recruited by many prestigious schools. SJ talks to coaches and negotiates on Michael’s behalf – and his own. When Michael gets his grades high enough, he decides to attend the University of Mississippi (known colloquially as “Ole Miss”), where Sean had played basketball and Leigh Anne had been a cheerleader. That causes NCAA investigator Granger to look into the matter to determine if the Tuohys took him in and unduly influenced him just so he would play for their alma mater.
Michael runs away before the interview is over and confronts Leigh Anne about her motives for taking him in. He then proceeds to find his biological mother in Hurt Village. A gang leader welcomes him back, offers him a beer, and makes sexually offensive insinuations about Leigh Anne and Collins. When the gang leader threatens to go after them, Michael battles with him and other thugs. After thinking things over and questioning Leigh Anne, Michael tells Granger he chose Ole Miss because “it’s where my family goes to school”. Michael is accepted into college and says his farewells to the Tuohy family.
The film ends with information about and photos of the real Tuohy family and Michael Oher, who went on to play in the National Football League. He was drafted by the Baltimore Ravens in the first round of the 2009 NFL Draft.