Andy starts out as a regular high school student. His biggest worries are how many baskets he will score in that night's game and whether he'll be scouted for college ball. Pretty soon, though, his life gets a lot more serious and complicated, thanks to a few bad decisions and a car accident that leaves Andy's best friend dead.
The night of the accident, Andy and Robbie (his BFF) are looking for a good time after winning a basketball game, so they grab a couple of beers and hit the open road. Caught up in their victory from earlier in the day, they're not really thinking, so it never crosses their minds that they might hurt themselves. Thing is, though, as Andy tells us later, he should have know better than to drink and drive.
Andy feels incredibly guilty about the accident that kills Robbie. Even though he knows Robbie wouldn't blame him, and the courts give him a suspended sentence, Andy can't help but blame himself for his best friend's death. He claims:
I think I would have felt better if I woulda had to suffer and complain a little. (7.45)
In other words, Andy doesn't feel sufficiently punished for his part in Rob's death. And this isn't something Andy gets over—nope, the guy never lets himself off the hook. He wasn't the only one drinking that night, but he's the only one who can't seem to make peace with his mistakes. Even Robbie's parents get over it, accepting the loss of their son for what it is: a terrible accident. For Andy, though, moving on is way easier said than done.
Andy starts to think of himself as a tiger after Monty draws one in class one day. Since the tiger is crying in Monty's drawing, it reminds him of Andy, who is not moping around the house all the time. Later, Andy thinks about this and tells us:
Tigers have it rough these days. Instead of roamin' the jungle, hiding from hunters in three-piece loincloths, they are put in concrete cages with bars of steel. Even in the modern zoos, where it looks like the tigers ought to be happy because they are given fifteen or twenty feet of real grass, if you look really hard, you can see tiny little electrical wires. The tiger, who might think he's equal to all those tigers in the jungle that his mama told him about, is quickly reminded to stay in his place. He soon learns that he'll never get out of there. (41.2)
Notice how he talks about tigers as big and strong normally, but weak now that they are confined. The cage he discusses here sounds an awful lot like a metaphor for how Andy views his life, doesn't it? Andy admits to his mom that he feels trapped, like he can't escape his life and what it's become—he says it's like being underwater and not being able to breathe. Andy used to feel strong and capable, but now he feels surrounded by Robbie's death and he can't find his way free.
Andy is told to keep pressing on, to act normally, as though nothing happened—just like the tiger at the zoo—but he can't do that anymore. He knows he'll never escape his cage (a.k.a. his guilt), so he decides to commit suicide instead. It's the only way out of confinement that Andy can see.
We get a hint at Andy's suicide early on when he heads to the crash site with Keisha. There, he thinks about throwing himself in front of the cars before Keisha stops him. In fact, Andy even admits to his shrink that he's contemplating suicide, but he also claims he wouldn't go through with it.
So what prompts Andy to take his own life? Check out what happens the night before Andy goes through with it. He's feeling depressed and angry after getting into it with his dad, so he decides to call Keisha to rant to her… but she's already asleep. Next, he dials his doctor, but the guy's out of town, so he tries his coach, but he gets his answering machine.
It's no wonder Andy feels alone. Even though we see people coming through for him time and again, in this moment when he really needs someone, no one is available. While no one who Andy reaches out to is to blame in any way for his actions, from where Andy's sitting—which is clouded by his depression, remember—no one is there for him. He feels entirely alone in the world.
Contrary to Andy's belief, his death upsets so many people—he is much more loved and cared about than he's capable of realizing. In fact, many of his friends are angry that he didn't reach out to them when he had the chance. In Andy's mind, he stopped deserving help or friends after what he did to Robbie. But his friends completely disagree.
Before Andy decides to commit suicide, he thinks about his life. He explains to us what he's feeling:
It's not that I want to die—it's just that I can't stand the pain of livin' anymore. I just want the hurt and pain inside to go away. It's like a monster in my gut—eatin' me up from the inside out. Actually, I feel like the only thing that's keepin' me from going crazy is this terrible, terrible pain. (39.5)
This passage offers some interesting insight into Andy's plight. He both cannot stand the pain he's in anymore and also sees the pain as the only thing keeping him sane—it's all he has to live for, in other words. And with pain as the best thing Andy thinks he has going for him, he decides this simply isn't enough; it isn't worth going forward for.
It's too bad. Andy fixes absolutely nothing by taking his own life—he leaves a barrel of pain behind for his brother and friends, for instance—so we'll join his friends in hoping that at least he's free from the pain that gnawed on him in life.