Courtyard of an inn at Amiens. While the banker Guillot de Morfontaine and the tax collector Monsieur de Brétigny are dining in the company of three women of easy virtue, the guardsman Lescaut takes charge of Manon, his young and seductive cousin whose parents are sending her to a convent. When Lescaut leaves her for a moment unattended, Guillot seizes the opportunity to offer her his riches in exchange for love. But their conversation is broken off by the re-entry of Lescaut who, before rejoining his companions at the card-table, puts his cousin on her guard against the perils of life. Again left alone, Manon encounters the Chevalier Des Grieux. They fall in love at first sight and elope to Paris, in the carriage ordered by Guillot.
The apartment of Des Grieux and Manon. Des Grieux is writing to his father the Count, asking permission to marry Manon. Having discovered the young lovers’ hiding-place, Lescaut calls on his cousin in the company of Brétigny, disguised as a guardsman. While Lescaut entertains Des Grieux, Brétigny informs Manon that her lover is to be abducted that same evening by order of his father, but promises wealth and comfort in exchange for her love. After a moment’s hesitation, Manon is won over by the prospect of luxurious life. Meanwhile she listens, deeply moved, to Des Grieux’s dream of love, but fails to warn him of his imminent abduction.
The Cours-la-Reine in Paris. It is a holiday. Lescaut is singing the praises of female beauty when Manon, richly attired, appears on the arm of Brétigny, her new lover. From Count Des Grieux’s words, Manon learns that the young man she once loved, who suffered deeply after their separation, has now forgotten her and is about to become an abbot. The parlour of the seminary at Saint-Sulpice. Count Des Grieux invites his son to reflect before taking holy orders. But the young man is adamant, hoping in this way to forget Manon for ever. The girl in person, however, unexpectedly appears and quickly reawakens his love. Des Grieux elopes with her.
The Transylvania Hotel. By now penniless, Des Grieux tries his luck at gambling. Anxious to get revenge on his rival, Guillot invites Des Grieux to join him in a game of cards. But, after losing a considerable sum of money, he accuses the Chevalier of cheating with the complicity of his lover. He reports Manon and Des Grieux to the police. Count Des Grieux manages to save his son from prison, but the girl is arrested.
The road to Le Havre. Lescaut and Des Grieux have attempted in vain to obtain the release of Manon, who has been sentenced to deportation. By bribing a sergeant in her escort-party, Lescaut frees Manon, who is able to re-embrace Des Grieux. Repenting of her past, she begs her lover to forgive her, and dies exhausted in his arms.