Fifteen-year-old Tex (Matt Dillon) and his older brother Mason (Jim Metzler) live by themselves in a decrepit house in Oklahoma. Their mother is dead and their irresponsible father (Bill McKinney) spends most of his time on the rodeo circuit. While Mason expends all his energy taking care of Tex, training for basketball, and trying to plan for college, the younger brother aimlessly squanders his life away.

Tex is based on a popular novel by S. E. Hinton, an author whose four young adult fiction works have sold more than ten million copies. The central value of Tex is its exploration of the stressful relationship between two brothers living without adult supervision. The tug-and-pull of conflicting needs is most evident when Mason sells his brother's horse in order to pay bills and keep food on the table, and Tex refuses to understand.

Tex is a kid who creates more problems than he knows how to handle. He has several run-ins with an understanding and gracious high school principle (Francis Lee McCain); he unwittingly antagonizes his best friend's father (Ben Johnson), and he initiates but can't follow through on a relationship with a smart girl (Meg Tilly). Two near encounters with death are poorly handled by director Tim Hunter who, in his debut feature film, has a difficult time taming his wild bronco screenplay. Although Matt Dillon (Darlings, The My Bodyguard) is billed as the star, Jim Metzler easily steals the movie from him with an engaging portrayal of his sensitive, caring and overburdened brother.