The film starts with the narrator stating that "this is a true story." Ciro, a young man living in Rome during WWII, would rather go swimming than find a job to help support his family. His father is a night watchman, and works long hours, but cares for his family. He buys a new pair of shoes for Ciro, but Ciro carelessly loses them. Ciro and his friends plot to steal a pair to replace them, but clumsily steal two left shoes. Iris, his neighbor, is in love with Ciro, but he treats her badly. She helps with chores around his house while Ciro sleeps late and acts like one of Fellini's vitteloni. After the war, Ciro does not change his ways, and is involved in shady situations. He is involved with another man's wife, but breaks it off. He and his friends hang out in bars and run small-time scams. Although he promises Iris that he is going to look for a job, he participates in a heist of tires. Something happens that requires Ciro to finally grow up.