Duke Senior and Duke Frederick are brothers who have quarreled, with the younger one, Frederick, winning and banishing and exiling the elder one, Duke Senior, from his own dukedom. Duke Senior goes to Arden Forest to live among the woods and shepherds with men from his court who are loyal to him who follow and joining him there. Duke Frederick imposes himself as the ruler and keeps Duke Senior's daughter Rosalind with him at the castle because she is the dearest friend of his own daughter Celia. Finally, Frederick banishes Rosalind and Celia accompanies her. They take the court jester, Touchstone (whose wit reveals the true nature of people he converses with) with them to Arden Forest.
Oliver and Orlando are brothers who quarreled long, long ago and as a result Oliver has been horrible to Orlando his whole life, but Orlando has taught himself to be a great wrestler and wins a match against Duke Frederick's best wrestler, incurring Frederick's wrath and Oliver's greater wrath. To escape being killed, Orlando escapes with his faithful and old servant Adam and they flee together to Arden Forest.
In Arden Forest, Rosalind, Orlando, Touchstone, and others who live in the forest, develop deeper abilities and understanding of and trust in themselves. Oliver and Duke Frederick, who have come after Orlando, have epiphanies (spiritual awakenings) and change their lives for the better. Rosalind is reconciled with her father; Orlando receives the inheritance of his deceased father's estate; Duke Senior receives his dukedom back again because Duke Frederick renounces his power and becomes a Christian monk. Celia falls in love with Oliver and they stay in Arden to live and die as shepherds. Rosalind takes control, acts like the ruling princess she rightfully is, and all the right people marry all the right people.
The roles of the two sets of brothers are to show brothers at war with each other and the need for the harmony of resolution of enmity between brothers. The roles of the two female leads is to show the true authority and importance of women and to show the need for harmony in the ruling structure, as Rosalind represents her father Duke Senior and Celia represents her father Duke Frederick; Rosalind and her father are restored to authority and Celia and her father retire from ruling society, he to a monastery, and she to a shepherd's life.