Gawain is generally said to be the nephew of Arthur. His parents were Lot of Orkney and Morgause (though his mother is said to be Anna in Geoffrey of Monmouth). Upon the death of Lot, he became the head of the Orkney clan, which includes in many sources his brothers Agravain, Gaheris, and Gareth, and his half-brother Mordred.
Gawain figures prominently in many romances. In France he is generally presented as one who has adventures paralleling in diptych fashion but not overshadowing the hero's, whether that hero be Lancelot or Percivale. In the English tradition, however, it is much more common for Gawain to be the principal hero and the exemplar of courtesy and chivalry, as he is in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and the other Arthurian romances of the Alliterative Revival. In Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur, however, he has a role similar to that in the French romances, in that Lancelot is the principal hero.
The accidental death of Gawain's brothers at Sir Lancelot's hands caused Gawain, one of the mightiest warriors at court, to become the bitter enemy of his once greatest friend. He was mortally wounded in a fight with Lancelot who, it is said, lay for two nights weeping at Gawain's tomb. Before his death, Gawain repented of his bitterness towards Lancelot and forgave him.