In a seedy section of Rome, Vittorio Cataldi--"Accattone" ("beggar") to those who know him--lives off the avails of prostitution, Maddalena being his only girl. He is married to Ascenza with who he has young son Iaio, but he does not live with them, provide for them, or play any important role in their lives (they live with her father and brother). He generally hangs out with his similarly-slack friends, playing cards and drinking. His income source is threatened when Maddalena is hit by a motorcyclist, then beaten by rivals of his, which leads to her being arrested and jailed for a year. Largely because of Iaio, Accattone contemplates going straight and getting a real job. Then he meets Stella, an innocent young woman who has had a hard life, but is not as naive as she first appears. Accattone falls in love with her, but as the thought of working a steady job now becomes abhorrent, contemplates pimping for Stella. As Accattone and Stella's relationship progresses, Accattone's past might come back to haunt him.