In the American west, just after WWII, best friends Big Boy (Woody Harrelson) and Pete (Billy Crudup) return from the war to find half their home town employed by corporate cattle-rancher Jim Ed Love (Sam Elliot). Defying Jim Ed Love and hanging on to mythic ideals of the west, Big Boy and Pete team up with an old-time rancher to raise cattle the cowboy way, and life in Hi-Lo, new Mexico becomes a volatile powder keg.
The fuse is lit when Mona (Patricia Arquette), the wife of Jim Ed's foreman, begins a heated affair with Big Boy. Pete's past longings for Mona resurface with his discovery of the affair, and the bond of friendship becomes sorely tested. Ultimately, Pete and Big Boy's friendship will be decided by the extent of their yearnings for the same woman, while Hi-Lo awaits the outcome of the explosive run-ins between Jim Ed Love and two proud cowboys.