Carl Johnson, also known as "CJ", the protagonist, was born and raised in Grove Street, Ganton, Los Santos, sharing a house with his mother, brothers Sean ("Sweet") and Brian and sister Kendl. Sweet and CJ joined the Grove Street Families gang as children, with Sweet working his way up the ranks to become the gang's leader. The Grove Street Families gained power in Los Santos, fighting with the Ballas and Vagos for control of the streets.
In 1987, Brian Johnson died. The cause of his death was never revealed, though it is implied that Carl was present and did not attempt to help him. Sweet held Carl responsible for Brian's death, which led to Carl leaving Los Santos and moving to Liberty City, where he started working as a car thief for Joey Leone. The Grove Street Families began losing power, with their enemies strengthening due to the highly-lucrative drugs trade in Los Santos, and eventually lost turf to Ballas and the Los Santos Vagos. The gang maintained control of their remaining territories by splitting up into three factions: the original Grove Street Families (ruling Ganton), the Seville Boulevard Families (having control of Playa del Seville) and the Temple Drive Families (mainly establishing themselves in Temple and Santa Maria Beach).
Return of CJ
In 1992, the Ballas planned to assassinate Sweet to deprieve the Families of their leader and take over their territories. They used a Sabre to perform a drive-by shooting on The Johnson House. However, instead of Sweet, the Ballas killed his mother, Beverly. Sweet phoned Carl to inform him of Beverly's death, and Carl agreed to return to Los Santos for the funeral.
Carl arrives at the airport and takes a taxi back to his mother's house. However, he is arrested en route. The three police officers that arrest Carl were Frank Tenpenny, Eddie Pulaski and Jimmy Hernandez of the C.R.A.S.H. police unit, a corrupt team of police. C.R.A.S.H. intend to frame Carl for the murder of Officer Ralph Pendelbury and warn Carl that they will be watching him, before throwing him out of the car in Jefferson. Carl makes his way to his mother's house, and meets Big Smoke, one of the leading members of the gang and Sweet's friend. They drive to the funeral and meet Sweet, Ryder and Kendl. Sweet is displeased with Carl's return, claiming that Carl "ran away". Kendl gets pissed at Sweet and walks off. Suddenly, the Ballas attempt a drive-by. After escaping the Ballas drive-by (which destroys Smoke's car), they race back to Grove Street. Seeing the state of the gang, Carl decides to stay and help get the gang back on its feet.
Carl begins working with Sweet, Smoke, Ryder and OG Loc to strengthen the gang again by clearing the hood of crack dealers, buying weapons from Emmet, spraying enemy gang tags and performing drive-bys in Ballas territory. After this, CJ is introduced to Cesar Vialpando, Kendl's boyfriend and leader of the Hispanic gang Varrios Los Aztecas (enemies of the Vagos). Despite a rocky start, both men eventually become good friends and allies. Carl also works with Ryder by stealing weapons for the gang, attacking enemy gangs with Big Smoke, and assisting OG Loc with his upcoming rapping career. Officer Tenpenny re-appears, ordering Carl to kill some Vagos and torch a house and interrupt a meeting between some Ballas and Russians, before killing them.
Carl helps the gang resist an attack from Ballas and keep control of Ganton, leading Sweet to regain some trust in Carl. Carl and Sweet successfully attack and take over Glen Park, Ballas territory. They gain revenge for their mother's murder by assassinating all the Ballas OGs, including Kane, at the cemetery. Carl takes over more territory for the Families, weakening their enemies, and also tries with Sweet, Smoke and Ryder to reunite the three sets of the Families, though they are ambushed by the police and escape after a long chase.
Carl's respect is upgraded, and Sweet decides to regain control of Los Santos. He assembles an army of Grove Street members and organises a gang war with the Ballas under the Mulholland Intersection. At the same time, Cesar phones Carl and informs him to meet him quickly, because he has something important to show Carl. Carl meets Cesar in Verdant Bluffs, where they witness Ryder, Big Smoke, C.R.A.S.H. and some Ballas exiting a garage containing a green Sabre, the same car used in the drive-by that killed Beverly Johnson. After witnessing this, Carl realizes that Sweet is walking into a trap, and quickly drives to the parking lot under the Mulholland Intersection to save his brother. When he arrives there, Sweet is heavily injured, but still alive. Sweet orders Carl to leave, but Carl refuses and kills all the remaining Ballas. The police arrive and arrest both Sweet and Carl. Sweet is taken to a prison hospital, while Carl is taken out of Los Santos by C.R.A.S.H. and taken to Angel Pine in Whetstone.
Whetstone, Flint County, & Red County
C.R.A.S.H. warn Carl not to return to Los Santos and try to kill Smoke, or else Sweet will come to harm in prison. They also have him kill an informant threatening to reveal their corruption to the authorities. Carl meets Cesar's cousin Catalina, and they perform various small-time robberies together. Carl also meets an ageing hippie named The Truth, who grows marijuana and provides Tenpenny with drugs. He has Carl steal a Combine Harvester from a farm and deliver it back to him, promising to call Carl when the weed Tenpenny requires is ready. Carl insists Cesar to leave Los Santos with Kendl, as the Grove Street Families and Varrios Los Aztecas are both disbanded and their territories taken over by the Ballas and Vagos, and he rents them a trailer home in Angel Pine, a small town in the countryside. After beating Wu Zi Mu, the leader of the Chinese San Fierro Triads in a car race, and Catalina and her new boyfriend Claude in a same race, he gains a deed to a garage in San Fierro. The Truth calls informing Carl to come and collect his money, although the police find out about the weed farm. Carl and The Truth torch the marijuana fields and destroy a police helicopter with a Rocket Launcher, before driving to Carl's garage in San Fierro with the marijuana.
Carl is angry after finding that his garage is derelict, but his sister calms him down and tells him that they can make it into a successful chop shop. To get the garage working, Carl hires mechanics Dwayne and Jethro, and electronics expert Zero. A few days later, Tenpenny phones Carl and informs him that a District Attorney has information on both him and Pulaski and orders Carl to plant the drugs he acquired from the Truth in the trunk of the Attorney's car. Carl does so, and the Attorney is arrested.
Cesar calls CJ and informs him of a Ballas car seen leaving the Mulholland Intersection and heading towards the countryside. They follow it and it leads them to Angel Pine, where they take photos of Ryder and some other men. The men are the leaders of the Loco Syndicate, an organization providing Big Smoke, Ryder, the Ballas and Vagos with drugs. Carl decides to kill the leaders of the Loco Syndicate, Jizzy B, T-Bone Mendez and Mike Toreno. Before doing that, he gains their trust by doing missions with drugs for them. After CJ kills Jizzy, he and Cesar with the help of Wu Zi Mu interrupt a meeting between the Ballas and T-Bone Mendez's gang, the San Fierro Rifa, and kill T-Bone Mendez and Ryder. To destroy the syndicate ultimately, Carl blows up a helicopter with Toreno inside, and destroys a crack factory in Doherty using a car bomb. He also works for Woozie's Triads, helping him defeat the rival Vietnamese gang called the Da Nang Boys, and making a friendship with him. Carl and Cesar then turn the garage into a successful business by stealing fast cars and delivering them to the place.
Tierra Robada and Bone County
After destroying the Crack Factory, Carl receives a call from an unknown caller (with a distorted voice) who claims to have information about Sweet, before ordering Carl to come to his ranch in Tierra Robada. Carl arrives at the ranch, where the caller identifies himself as Toreno. Toreno reveals to Carl that Sweet is in a prison Upstate, but is safe, and that Jimmy Hernandez had killed Ralph Pendlebury on the orders of Frank Tenpenny and Eddie Pulaski, who then framed Carl for the murder. Toreno has Carl perform various tasks for him, including learning to fly planes and helicopters, with the promise that Sweet will be released from prison should Carl prove his ability.
Woozie is now a successful businessman with a casino in Las Venturas, and tells CJ to come and visit him. As Carl arrives there, Woozie informs him of a big plan: robbing the rival Caligula's Casino which is ran by the Italian Mob. Carl firstly gains the trust of the mob boss Salvatore Leone by carrying hits on rival mob families, and then he and the Triads rob the casino after a well-thought and done plan, firstly stealing some dynamite, then stealing the plans for the casino, stealing the swipe card for the casino from a croupier, cutting off the electricity in the Sherman Dam, stealing some HPV1000 police bikes for the getaway, highjacking an armored van using a Leviathan helicopter and respraying it with the Caligula's Casino logo, and finally robbing the casino with huge profits for Carl and Woozie. During this time, Tenpenny arrives in Las Venturas and orders Carl to kill an FBI agent and collect a dossier. Carl collects the dossier, and Tenpenny agrees to meet Carl in a deserted village in the desert. Carl hands the dossier to Tenpenny, who knocks Hernandez (who has informed Tenpenny's superiors about his and Pulaski's corruption) out with a shovel. Tenpenny drives off, and orders Pulaski to kill Carl. Pulaski attempts to kill Carl, but Hernandez regains conciousness and attempts to attack Pulaski, who shoots and kills Hernandez. Carl gives chase to Pulaski, and eventually severely injures him. Carl asks a dying Pulaski if he has any "last requests", with Pulaski replying that he wants to have sex with Kendl. An infuriated Carl finishes Pulaski off by stomping on his head. Carl is introduced to rapper Madd Dogg, whom he rescues from a suicide attempt, before helping him reclaim his mansion in Los Santos from the Vagos.
Return to Los Santos
Toreno re-appears, and orders CJ to steal a military jet from the Easter Basin Naval Base and use it to destroy a flotilla of spy ships. Carl does so, and Toreno keeps to his earlier promise and secures Sweet's release from prison. Carl meets his brother, who is not happy with Carl's new lifestyle, which has led him to neglect the gang. To prove his loyalty, Carl takes back Ganton and Grove Street from the Ballas, re-establishing the Grove Street Families. The Johnson brothers begin an open war on the Ballas and Vagos, taking almost all of Los Santos from them. Carl also helps Madd Dogg re-establish his rapping career.
Tenpenny is on trial for several charges, but is acquitted due to lack of evidence. Following this, the gang-infested areas of Los Santos descend into rioting. Carl helps Cesar reclaim his hood from the Vagos, before heading with Sweet to confront and kill Big Smoke in his crack palace. Carl enters the building, fighting his way through Ballas, Vagos, Rifas and Russians, and finally confronts Big Smoke, and kills him after a gunfight in his room. Carl sits with a dying Big Smoke, asking him why he abandoned the Families, with Smoke explaining that he was too caught up in the money, and with his dying breath proclaims "Everybody will remember my name! Big Smoke!". Smoke dies, and Carl sadly laments Smoke's death, claiming it was a "waste". Tenpenny arrives with a combat shotgun, intending to kill Carl, and orders him to empty the contents of Smoke's safe into a briefcase, which he intends to flee San Andreas with. Tenpenny attempts to shoot Carl, who distracts Tenpenny by shouting Sweet's name, causing Tenpenny to miss Carl when he looks behind him. Tenpenny sets the building on fire by shooting a generator, and escapes. Carl is again forced to fight his way out, and finally escapes just as the building explodes. Tenpenny escapes in a firetruck, but Sweet grabs hold of the ladder. Carl follows him in a car, and manages to catch Sweet when he loses his grip. Sweet takes the wheel, and Carl acts as the shooter, killing pursuing police officers whilst at the same time avoiding rioting gang members, while Sweet chases Tenpenny's firetruck. Tenpenny loses control of the firetruck on the bridge over Grove Street. The firetruck crashes off the bridge and lands in the centre of Grove Street. A severly-injured Tenpenny exits the firetruck and claims he "cleaned up the streets", before succumbing to his injuries. The Truth congratulates Carl on "beating the system", before Sweet, Carl, Cesar and Kendl head to The Johnson House to celebrate. Whilst discussing their futures, Ken Rosenberg, Kent Paul, Maccer and Madd Dogg appear, with Madd Dogg proudly showing off his new gold record, leading to another celebration. Carl heads outside, claiming he's "Fittin' to hit the block, see what's happening". With Tenpenny's death, justice is seen to be done in Los Santos and the riots subside.
Five years ago Carl Johnson escaped from the pressures of life in Los Santos, San Andreas... a city tearing itself apart with gang trouble, drugs and corruption. Where film stars and millionaires do their best to avoid the dealers and gangbangers.
Now, it's the early 90s. Carl's got to go home. His mother has been murdered, his family has fallen apart and his childhood friends are all heading towards disaster.
On his return to the neighborhood, a couple of corrupt cops frame him for homicide. CJ is forced on a journey that takes him across the entire state of San Andreas, to save his family and to take control of the streets.