The setting of McCarthy’s No Country for Old Men is mostly 1980s Texas. The action takes place in both rural and wilderness areas in Texas as well as in towns along the Texas-Mexico border. For a short period of time, the setting briefly turns to a hospital in Mexico.
The story takes place during the drug wars of the 1980s. With the drug wars came a lawlessness reminiscent of organized crime in the 1920s when Al Capone ruled Chicago or of cowboy outlaws during the early settlement of the west. The weapons of the 1980s are more sophisticated and more devastating, but the ruthlessness and the lack of respect for human life are very similar.
The story begins out in a west Texas desert not far from Sanderson. Moss is hunting for antelope in an isolated spot that requires a four-wheel-drive vehicle, a horse, or a lot of hiking. It should be a quiet place, but because of its isolation, it is also a great setting for undetected drug smuggling.
The chase—the drug criminals after Moss—begins at this spot and continues, first on foot across the desert, then in cars, trucks, and busses back and forth between Odessa, Del Rio, Sanderson, and El Paso, across the lower western part of Texas.
Two of the characters, Moss and Wells, are veterans of the Vietnam War. Although this war is only briefly mentioned and is no big part of the story, the Vietnam War does color the setting. The toughness, the weapon skills, and the lack of fear of death that were honed in this brutal war define the two characters. Just the mention that they both had served in the war creates a temporary bond between them. They both size one another up based on what they know about that war. Two other wars, World Wars I and II, are also used as background.
In the middle of the novel, there is a big shoot-out at Eagle Pass, Texas. Eagle Pass and Piedras Negras, Mexico, make up one of several binational metropolitan areas along the Texas-Mexico border. After Moss is wounded in Eagle Pass, he hobbles across a bridge into Mexico to secure his money and to find medical help. He is also hoping to hide there until he is healed. But the cities are too closely bound. And Moss is quite easily found.
The overall impression of this novel is that there is no place to hide. That is true for the antelope that Moss was illegally hunting in the beginning of the story as well as for Moss himself. Though the desert is wide, the population is rather sparse in Western Texas, and the criminals and the cops keep bumping into one another. That is, all except for Chigurh, who keeps slipping away.