"The Snows of Kilimanjaro" centers around Harry, who has contracted gangrene while on an African safari and is dying. He is with his wife, Helen, and they are in the company of several porters, who set up camp, cook, and wait on them.
As Harry waits to die, he experiences a series of flashbacks to his earlier life, including several wartime experiences. In the final flashback scene, just before his death, Harry remembers an officer whose last name was Williamson. The officer has been struck by a bomb and is in much pain, begging others to shoot him and end his misery. The only other character named in the story is Compton, an imaginary pilot who flies Harry, as he experiences his physical death, out of the world and toward the spiritual realm.
Though he's not a character in the story, Hemingway alludes to fellow author F. Scott Fitzgerald, whom he represents with a character named Julian and mocks lightly for the first sentence of a story he wrote that mirrors the beginning of Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby:
The very rich are different from you and me.