Scene 1 – The courtyard of an inn near Paris
Actresses, gentlemen and the demi-monde from Paris gather at the courtyard of an inn near Paris. Among them are Des Grieux (a young student), the wealthy Monsieur G.M. and Lescaut, who is there to meet his sister Manon on her way to enter a convent. During the hustle and bustle of arrivals and introductions, a beggar steals a watch from Monsieur G.M. and celebrates gleefully before its loss is discovered and Lescaut has to intervene to save him from punishment. Soon afterwards, Manon arrives with an Old Gentleman who is obviously attracted to her. Lescaut notices the Old Gentleman's interest and takes him into the inn to come to an arrangement over Manon.Manon remains outside and meets Des Grieux. He is entranced by her. They fall in love and decide to escape to Paris with the help of the money that she has stolen from the Old Gentleman. Lescaut and the Old Gentleman come out of the inn, having made a bargain, and to their dismay see that Manon has disappeared. Monsieur G.M. tells Lescaut that he too is interested in Manon and, because of G.M.’s wealth, Lescaut promises to find Manon and persuade her to accept him.
Scene 2 – Des Grieux's lodgings in Paris
Des Grieux and Manon are at his lodgings in Paris. He is writing a letter to his father. Manon interrupts by declaring her love for him. Des Grieux goes to post the letter and in his absence Lescaut arrives with Monsieur G.M.. Manon quickly yields to G.M.’s advances. When Des Grieux returns, Lescaut persuades him that there will be great wealth for all of them if he will sanction the liaison between G.M. and Manon.
Scene 1 – A party at the hôtel particulier of Madame
Manon arrives at the party given by Monsieur G.M. at Madame’s hôtel particulier. She is clearly torn between the wealth of her companion and her love for Des Grieux, who is there with Lescaut. Des Grieux tries to persuade Manon to leave with him but she tells him that the time is not right and will be only when he takes more of Monsieur G.M.’s money at cards. Des Grieux is caught cheating and he and Manon rush away.
Scene 2 – Des Grieux's lodgings
Back in Des Grieux’s lodings, he and Manon once again declare their love. Monsieur G.M. arrives with the police and Manon is arrested as a prostitute. In the ensuing struggle, Lescaut is killed.
Scene 1 – The port
The Gaoler of the penal colony awaits the arrival of the convicts from France at the port. Manon has been deported to America as a prostitute and Des Grieux has followed her there by pretending to be her husband. The Gaoler sees them together and turns his interest towards Manon.
Scene 2 – The gaoler's room
The Gaoler has arrested Manon but takes her to his room and offers her rewards in the hope that she will desert Des Grieux and live with him. Des Grieux breaks in and kills the Gaoler.
Scene 3 – The swamp
Manon has escaped with Des Grieux into the swamp of Louisiana to elude their pursuers. All her former ambitions of wealth and splendour have been renounced for her love of Des Grieux. Manon collapses and dies in Des Grieux’s arms.