The tree-level scattering amplitudes of general relativity (GR) encode the full nonlinearity of the Einstein field equations. Yet remarkably compact expressions for these amplitudes have been found which seem unrelated to a perturbative expansion of the Einstein–Hilbert action. This suggests an entirely different description of GR which makes this on-shell simplicity manifest. Taking our cue from the tree-level amplitudes, we discuss how such a description can be found. The result is a formulation of GR in terms of a solvable two-dimensional conformal field theory (CFT), with the Einstein equations emerging as quantum consistency conditions.