Johnny tells Ponyboy to “stay gold” when he dies, which is a result of the poem they read in Chapter 5.
When Johnny dies, he tells Ponyboy to “stay gold.” What he means is that he wants him to stay good-hearted. This is because most of the greasers just want to be tough. In their neighborhood, they have to join the gang to survive. You are born into a gang. You are either a greaser or a Soc, based on your social class and where you live. Ponyboy is smart and sensitive though. He loves books and movies. He is not like the other greasers.
Johnny says this because he felt guilty about killing Bob and dragging Pony on the run to hide out in the church. Pony and Johnny had to go on the run after he killed Bob.
"This is my fault," Johnny said in a miserable voice. He had stopped crying when I started. "For bringin' a little thirteen-year-old kid along. You ought to go home. You can't get into any trouble. You didn't kill him." (Ch. 5)
Johnny is upset because Pony does not like cutting and dying his hair. Hair is like identity for a greaser. He feels responsible for the situation they are in, even though it was self-defense when he killed Bob. Pony gets annoyed, telling him that he is fourteen years old, but Johnny sees Pony's innocence. He still isn't like the other greasers.
Johnny brought back a copy of Gone with the Wind for Pony, knowing he wanted to read it. It shows his sensitive nature. Pony shares a Robert Frost poem with him called “Nothing Gold Can Stay,” about how everything in nature starts out fresh and new, but then eventually withers.
Then leaf subsides to leaf
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay." (Ch. 5)
When Johnny dies, he tells Pony to “stay gold” because he wants him to understand that he sees him as the innocent in the poem, and he believes he can buck the trend. Pony is smart. He can stay in school, and make something of himself. He does not need to follow all of the other greasers to a life of crime and jail. Johnny feels responsible for what happened to Pony, and he is trying to make amends from his deathbed.
Although grieving for Johnny, Pony does get his act together. He is able to escape the system of jail and get onto an educational track. We see that in the English teacher who knows he has potential. Pony is able to realize that Johnny's sacrifice meant something. He is an inspiration to other Socs and greasers too. In saving kids from the fire, he made them realize that the world is bigger than petty feuds.