The narrator explains that, as a young boy, he once drew a picture of a boa constrictor with an elephant digesting in its stomach; however, every adult who saw the picture would mistakenly interpret it as a drawing of a hat. Whenever the narrator would try to correct this confusion, he was ultimately advised to set aside drawing and take up a more practical or mature hobby. The narrator laments the lack of creative understanding displayed by adults.
Now an adult himself, the narrator has become a pilot, and, one day, his plane crashes in the Sahara desert, far from civilization. Here, the narrator is suddenly greeted by a young boy or small man whom he refers to as "the little prince". The little prince asks the narrator to draw a sheep. The narrator first shows him his old picture of the elephant inside the snake, which, to the narrator's surprise, the prince interprets correctly. After a few failed attempts at drawing a good-looking sheep, the narrator simply draws a box in his frustration, claiming that the box holds a sheep inside. Again, to the narrator's surprise, the prince exclaims that this is exactly the picture he wanted. The narrator says that the prince has a strange habit of avoiding directly answering any of the narrator's questions. The prince is described as having golden hair, a scarf, and a lovable laugh.
Over the course of eight days stranded in the desert, as the narrator attempts to repair his plane, the little prince recounts the story of his life. The prince begins by describing life on his tiny home planet: in effect, an asteroid the size of a house (which the narrator believes to be the one known as B-612). The asteroid's most prominent features are three minuscule volcanoes (two active, and one dormant or extinct) as well as a variety of plants. The prince describes spending his earlier days cleaning the volcanoes and weeding out certain unwanted seeds and sprigs that infest his planet's soil; in particular, pulling out baobab trees that are constantly trying to grow and overrun the surface. The prince appears to want a sheep to eat such undesirable plants, until the narrator informs him that a sheep will even eat roses with thorns. Upon hearing this, the prince tells of his love for a mysterious rose that suddenly began growing on the asteroid's surface some time ago. The prince says he nourished the rose and listened to her when she told him to make a screen or glass globe to protect her from the cold wind. Although the prince fell in love with the rose, he also began to feel that she was taking advantage of him, and he resolved to leave the planet to explore the rest of the universe. Although the rose finally apologized for her vanity, and the two reconciled, she encouraged him to go ahead with his journey and so he traveled onward.
The prince has since visited six other asteroids, each of which was inhabited by a foolish, narrow-minded adult, including: a king with no subjects; a conceited man, who believed himself the most admirable person on his otherwise uninhabited planet; a drunkard who drank to forget the shame of being a drunkard; a businessman who endlessly counted the stars and absurdly claimed to own them all; a lamplighter who mindlessly extinguished and relighted a lamp every single minute; and an elderly geographer, so wrapped up in theory that he never actually explored the world that he claimed to be mapping. When the geographer asked the prince to describe his home, the prince mentioned the rose, and the geographer explained that he does not record "ephemeral" things, such as roses. The prince was shocked and hurt by this revelation, since the rose was of great importance to him on a personal level. The geographer recommended that the prince next visit the planet Earth.
On Earth, the prince landed in the desert, leading him to believe that Earth was uninhabited. He then met a yellow snake that claimed to have the power to return him to his home, if he ever wished to return. The prince next met a desert flower, who told him that she had only seen a handful of men in this part of the world and that they had no roots, letting the wind blow them around and living hard lives....