For most of his childhood, 17-year-old Michael Oher (Quinton Aaron) has been in foster care with different families throughout Memphis, Tennessee. Every time he is placed in a new home, he runs away. His friend’s father, whose couch Mike had been sleeping on, asks Burt Cotton (Ray McKinnon), 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 abysmal academic record.
At his new school, Michael is befriended by a boy named Sean Jr. SJ” (Jae Head). SJ’s mother Leigh Anne Tuohy (Sandra Bullock) is a strong-minded interior designer and the wife of wealthy businessman Sean Tuohy (Tim McGraw). After a late night Thanksgiving school play, Leigh Anne notices Michael walking on the road, shivering in the cold; when she learns he intends to spend the night huddled outside the school gym, she offers him a place to sleep at her house. The next morning, when she sees Michael leaving, she asks him to spend the holiday with her family.
Slowly, Michael becomes a member of the Tuohy family, even as Leigh Anne’s rich friends wonder what she is doing. One even suggests that her teenage daughter Collins (Lily Collins) is not safe around him, much to Leigh Anne’s disgust. When Leigh Anne seeks to become Michael’s legal guardian, she learns he was separated from his drug-addict mother when he was seven and that no one knows her whereabouts. She is also told that even though he scored low in almost every category, he is in the 98th percentile in “protective instincts”.
After his grades improve, Michael is allowed to join the school football team. He has a shaky start due to his polite and gentle nature, yet after some encouragement by Leigh Anne to tap into his “protective instincts” and regard his teammates as he would members of his family, Michael dominates on the field. SJ sends out videos of the games to college coaches around the country. Leigh Anne discovers that to get a NCAA Division I scholarship, Michael needs a 2. 5 GPA, so they hire a tutor, Miss Sue (Kathy Bates).
Some of the teachers help out as well, and Michael ends up with a GPA of 2. 52. When coaches come to recruit Michael, Leigh Anne makes it clear that she prefers the University of Mississippi (Ole Miss) as both she and her husband are alumni. Miss Sue, another Ole Miss alumna, tells Michael (who dislikes horror films) that the FBI buries body parts under the University of Tennessee’s Neyland Stadium for research; Leigh Anne particularly loathes that school. Michael commits to Ole Miss. Subsequently,
Michael and the Tuohys become the subject of an NCAA investigation. The investigator tells Michael that the Tuohys and Miss Sue are fervent Mississippi boosters, who are subject to special restrictions, and his high school coach got a job at Ole Miss after Michael chose the school. Michael confronts Leigh Anne, asking her if she only took him in so he would play football for her alma mater. Michael then goes to his birth mother’s apartment in the projects. His old friends welcome him, but their leader makes crude remarks about Leigh Anne and Collins.
In the ensuing fight, Michael dispatches three thugs and then flees the scene. Leigh Anne searches for Michael. He finally calls her, and they meet. Leigh Anne tells him she will support any decision he makes. Michael satisfies the investigator by explaining that he chose Ole Miss because his whole family has gone there. Later, Leigh Ann and her family take Michael to the Ole Miss campus to begin college. The film ends with an emotional goodbye between Leigh Anne and Michael.