In 1981, Forrest Gump (TOM HANKS) sits at a bus stop and, noticing a nurse's white shoes, begins to tell the story of his life, starting with his first pair of shoes. The story then extends through three decades, carrying along his life-long love, Jenny (ROBIN WRIGHT), and many events of historical importance.
In flashbacks and through his narration, Forrest attends the University of Alabama through a football scholarship and is present when George Wallace blocks the doorway in protest of the desegregation of the school. He joins the Army and goes to Vietnam, where he meets Lieutenant Dan Taylor (GARY SINISE) who becomes just as important in his life as Jenny.
He plays ping-pong for the United States in its quest for good relations with China. He meets Presidents Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon, and gets caught up in a protest rally against the Vietnam War. He also ends up at the headquarters of the Black Panthers and all the while, his concern and love for Jenny remain, despite the path that her life takes, one of drugs, the hippie movement, posing in Playboy and performing at a sleazy Memphis theater, and devastation.
He also starts his own shrimping company after promising a friend he would go into that business, and there's still more that happens to him, including marathon running which redefines the definition of it.