Written and directed by Federico Fellini, five young men are friends. One of them marries the pregnant sister of another and lives with their family, but he is attracted to other women.
At a New Year’s party Fausto Moretti (Franco Fabrizi) asks his date for a kiss, but she refuses and asks who is Sandra. When it starts raining, people run for cover and go inside. Sandra Rubini (Eleonora Ruffo) is congratulated for winning the Miss Mermaid contest, and she faints. She cries, and her mother asks the doctor what is wrong.
At home Fausto is packing and tells his father Francesco Moretti (Jean Brochard) he is going to Milan for a job. Moraldo Rubini (Franco Interlenghi) comes in and says Sandra is expecting. Fausto says that is why he is leaving. Fausto swears he loves her and asks Moraldo to go with him. Fausto asks his father for 5,000 lire. His father scolds him and tells him he must marry her.
So Fausto weds Sandra in church, and the couple leaves on a train. La Signora Rubini (Paola Borboni) says they will live with them until Fausto can support her. Moraldo hangs out with his friends Leopoldo (Leopoldo Trieste), Alberto (Alberto Sordi), and Riccardo (Riccardo Fellini). Alberto goes home to his mama and sister Olga (Claude Farell). Riccardo worries about his growing gut. Leopoldo works on his new play. From the window he talks with the neighbor’s maid Caterina. Moraldo walks the empty streets. At 3 a.m. he talks with the boy Guido (Guido Martufi), who is going to work.
Alberto persuades his sister Olga to loan him 500. The five young men walk along the beach, and Alberto sees Olga with a man. At home Alberto tells her to break up with him and asks if he will marry her.
His friends welcome Fausto back, and he plays a gramophone he brought. Fausto’s father gets him a job in the shop of his friend Michele Curti (Carlo Romano), and he starts right away. His friends come in but leave him alone.
Sandra talks with her friends and sees Fausto closing up the shop. He takes her to the movies. Fausto is attracted to the woman sitting next to him, but she leaves. He goes after her, leaving Sandra in the cinema. At her door he kisses her, and she says she is married. He wants to see her again. He finds Sandra waiting in the street, and he lies about where he went. Sandra says she is scared and cries. Fausto says he loves her.
During carnival season people celebrate. At home Alberto is dressing as a woman. Riccardo and Leopoldo also wear costumes. Fausto and Sandra see them at a dance. Caterina sees Leopoldo with Gisella. Moraldo dances with his sister Sandra. Fausto sees Giula Curti (Lida Baarova), the wife of his boss. Leopoldo kisses Gisella. In the morning Moraldo finds Alberto staggering in the street. Alberto says he wants to get married and be happy. Moraldo helps him go home. Alberto’s sister Olga tells him she is going away, and she leaves in a car. At home Alberto finds his mother crying. Alberto says he will get a job.
Fausto arrives at work late and flirts with Giula. He kisses her even though she is resisting him. His boss Michele Curti notices and invites Fausto up for a drink. He pays Fausto and fires him, telling him to go. Fausto tells Moraldo that the wife came on to him, and he got fired. Fausto asks Moraldo to pull a job. They climb over a roof and sneak into a store-room. Fausto wants to take a valuable statue of an angel. They get the idiot Guidizio to haul it. Fausto tries to sell it to a sister at the Ursuline convent, and a monk won’t buy it either.
During dinner Moraldo’s father Rubini (Enrico Viarisio) says Moraldo and Fausto stole a statue. He says Fausto tried to force himself on his friend’s wife. Sandra cries and runs to her room. Moraldo tells Sandra that Fausto did not make a pass. Sandra tells Fausto what Moraldo told her, and she gives him a sandwich. She cries and gets Fausto to say he loves her.
When the baby is born, Sandra is happy. The guys watch a variety show. They go to the dressing room of the actor Sergio, who likes Leopoldo’s play. At a restaurant Leopoldo reads it aloud. Women from the show come in and gain the attention of Fausto, Alberto, and Riccardo. Sergio leaves and tells Leopoldo that his friends do not appreciate art. At a pier Leopoldo becomes afraid of Sergio and runs away. Fausto leaves a woman in bed and finds Moraldo in the street. Fausto praises the woman, but Moraldo is thinking of Sandra. Fausto comes in, and Sandra sees him wiping lipstick off his face and cries.
Sandra leaves the house at dawn. Riccardo in a car picks up Fausto, Alberto, and Leopoldo. They go to her school, but Moraldo says she is not there. Moraldo says he will look on his own. The four men drive into the country, but she is not at the Nanny’s. Fausto leaves on a bicycle and goes home. Signora Rubini says they are at the police station or searching at the beach. Fausto goes to the beach. At home he tells Moraldo he will kill himself, but Moraldo says Fausto is a coward. Fausto goes to Michele Curti and cries. Fausto finds Sandra and the baby at his father’s house. His father takes off his belt and beats him. Fausto says goodbye and leaves with Sandra and the baby happily.
In the final scene Moraldo leaves on a train, and the boy Guido says goodbye to him.
This drama explores the transition from youth to adulthood when most people leave the comradeship of friends of the same sex in order to find romance and marriage to create a new family. Some restless men have difficulty being limited to one woman, but a young mother wants the security of a faithful husband. The story is charmed with innocence and joys of simple living.