George and Lydia Hadley are the proud owners of a “Happylife Home which had cost them thirty thousand dollars installed, this house which clothed and fed and rocked them to sleep and played and sang and was good to them.” This is the dream home of the story’s futuristic world, and its most elaborate feature is a nursery, which can reproduce any scene in complete aural, visual, or olfactory detail in response to the occupants’ thought waves. The Hadleys’ children, Wendy and Peter, have used the nursery to conjure up such fantasies as Oz, Wonderland, or Doctor Doolittle, but lately the children have used it to re-create an African veldt. The Hadleys, investigating the nursery, are frightened by the image of charging lions.
Indeed, the incident so unnerves them that Lydia suggests locking the nursery for a few days even though she knows that the children almost live for the nursery. She begs George to turn off all the labor-saving devices in the house so that they can have a vacation and do things for themselves. At dinner, George thinks of how the children have become obsessed with the African veldt, with its hot sun, vultures, and feeding lions. The nursery shows that thoughts of death have become prominent in his children’s minds. Returning to the nursery, he orders it to remove the veldt and bring forth an image that he thinks is more healthy for his children, but the room does not respond. The nursery’s apparatus will not alter the veldt either because of a malfunction caused by excessive use or because someone, possibly Peter, has tampered with the machinery.
When the children arrive home from a carnival, George questions them about the nursery, but the children deny all knowledge of the veldt. Going to the nursery again, the Hadleys find a different scene in it, which must have been put in by Wendy. However, George finds an old wallet of his on the nursery floor, with tooth marks, the odor of a lion, and blood on it. Later, the Hadleys hear the sounds of human screams and lion roars coming from the nursery. They know that the children have defied orders and are once again in their playroom. When George suggests to his children that the family give up the house’s mechanical aids, including the nursery, for a time, Wendy and Peter are decidedly against it. Peter apparently sees no other purpose in life than watching and hearing sophisticated electronic entertainments. He ominously tells his parents that they should forget about closing the nursery.
Worried about the growing secrecy and disobedience of the children, George and Lydia invite their friend David McClean, a psychologist, to examine the use that the children make of the nursery. As George and David enter the nursery, they see lions eating something in the distance. This carnage and the entire veldt disturbs David. He explains that the nursery can be used as a psychological aid, with the images left on the walls serving as an index of a child’s mind. According to David, the veldt image reflects the children’s hostility toward their parents. They resent their parents’ authority, preferring instead the ever responsive nursery. The psychologist strongly urges them to leave their Happylife Home and start a new life elsewhere. As they leave the room, David finds a scarf of Lydia’s with bloodstains on it.
George finally turns off the nursery and the rest of the house. The children throw an elaborate temper tantrum in which Peter implores the now disconnected machinery not to let his father kill the house. The children beg for one minute more of nursery viewing, to which Lydia adds her support until George relents. The children are allowed one minute while George and Lydia await David McClean’s arrival so that they can fly to a new life in Iowa. The Hadleys are preparing for departure when they hear Wendy and Peter calling to them. They run into the nursery, but all they find is the familiar veldt scene with the lions looking at them. Suddenly the door is slammed and locked, and the Hadleys hear Peter shouting to the house. Then the lions start moving toward them “and suddenly they realized why those other screams had sounded familiar.” When David McClean arrives at the house, he finds only the children in the nursery watching lions feeding on something in the distance.