The main conflict rests on which of the five children will inherit Willy Wonka's fortune and chocolate factory. The resolution is not unexpected: Charlie Bucket, a boy from an impoverished family, wins Willy Wonka's contest to become the chocolate millionaire's heir.
At the beginning of the story, we are introduced to Charlie Bucket and his family. Charlie's family consists of Grandpa Joe, Grandma Josephine, Grandma Georgina, Grandpa George, Mr. Bucket, and Mrs. Bucket. In Charlie's family, Mr. Bucket is the only one who has a job: he works as a toothpaste cap-screwer in a factory. As he doesn't earn very much, the whole family lives in poverty.
The story shifts to Willy Wonka, the eccentric owner of the town's chocolate factory. After a ten-year period of seclusion, Mr. Wonka suddenly announces that he will allow five children to tour his factory. The five children will be chosen by way of a special contest. Mr. Wonka announces that Five Golden Tickets will be hidden underneath the wrapping paper of five chocolate bars. The five children who find the tickets will get to tour his factory and be given enough confections and chocolates to last them a lifetime.
Charlie ends up being the last child to find a Golden Ticket. The other four children are Augustus Gloop, Veruca Salt, Violet Beauregarde, and Mike Teavee. Charlie's fellow competitors are flawed in various ways. Augustus is a glutton, Veruca is a spoilt brat, Violet is a self-absorbed egotist, and Mike is an obsessed TV fan.
Charlie is accompanied by his Grandpa Joe to the Wonka factory. One by one, Charlie's fellow competitors are eliminated from the contest. Augustus falls into the chocolate river after drinking from it against Mr. Wonka's advice. He becomes lodged in one of the underwater pipes.
Meanwhile, Violet rudely ignores Mr. Wonka's advice not to taste a super gum he has just created. Accordingly, the gum represents a three-course meal consisting of tomato soup, blueberry pie, and roast beef. Violet, an obsessed gum fan, seizes on the experimental creation and chews on it. She is then changed into a giant blueberry and eventually juiced by the Oompa-Loompas in the Juicing Room.
Veruca is eliminated from the contest when she steals into the nut room to get herself a squirrel. The squirrels in the nut room are specially trained to shell walnuts, and Mr. Wonka stipulates that they are not to be disturbed. Accordingly, the squirrels can tell a bad nut from a good one; every bad nut they find is thrown down the garbage chute. When Veruca enters the nut room, the squirrels grab her and throw her down the chute. She eventually ends up in a garbage pile.
Mike Teavee also gets eliminated from the contest. He becomes obsessed with the idea of being sent from one place to another by means of the special television in the Chocolate-Television Room. Accordingly, before any object is sent, a special camera takes a picture of the object. However, up to this point, no human has ever been sent anywhere by Mr. Wonka's television. Mike aims to be the first, and he jumps in front of the camera lens before anyone can stop him. As a result, he ends up being shortened to about an inch tall.
The conflict resolves, of course, with Charlie Bucket winning the contest. Mr. Wonka explains that he wanted a "good, sensible loving child" to inherit his factory, and he believes that he has found that in Charlie. The story ends on a happy note as Charlie and Grandpa Joe accompany Mr. Wonka to the Bucket home to pick up the rest of the family.