The courtyard of an inn in Amiens
The innkeeper is serving Bretigny and Guillot and their companions Pousette, Rosette amd Javotte. The townspeople surge in to watch the arrival of the coach.
Lescaut tells his friends, fellow guardsmen, that he will join them in a drink when he has met his cousin, Manon. When the coach arrives, surrounded by a crowd of onlookers, he finds her. She is garrulous from excitement at her first journey. The crowd disperses, leaving them alone. Lescaut tells Manon to stay where she is and behave herself while he collects her luggage. Guillot catches sight of her and makes advances, at which she only laughs. He only leaves her when Lescaut returns, having told her he will send his coachmen later to fetch her.
Manon assures her suspicious cousin that it was Guillot who spoke to her first and he leaves her again, advising her how to conduct herself if anyone else ahould address her, reminding her that he is the custodian of the family honor. He then goes off to join his friends gambling and drinking, leaving her alone in the courtyard.
She is attracted by Pousette, Rosette and Javotte, wishing she had jewels like theirs and longing for a life of pleasure. The Chevalier Des Grieux, who is on his way home, sees her and is immediately attracted. When he speaks to her she is charmed by his manners and soon tells him her story: her family, who find her too inclined to pleasure, are sending her off to a convent. They fall in love. Catching sight of Guillot's coachmen, Manon suggests they take his coach and elope. They set off for Paris.
The apartment of Manon and Des Grieux in Paris
Des Grieux is writing to tell his father about Manon, whom he hopes to marry. She reads the letter with him. He asks her about a bouquet of flowers in the room and she is evasive. The maidservant announces two visitors: one Lescaut, the other, aside to Manon, the gentleman living nearby who loves her.
Lescaut pretends to be in a rage about his family honor and asks if Des Grieux intends to marry Manon. Des Grieux shows him the letter and Lescaut draws him away to look at it, to allow Bretigny to speak to Manon. He tells her that Des Grieux will be carried off that night and warns her that if she interferes it will mean poverty for both of them, while he can offer her wealth.
Lescaut is apparently pacified by the letter and he and Bretigny depart. Des Grieux goes to post his letter and Manon, who loves him but fears poverty, bids farewell to the apartment where they have been so happy. When Des Grieux returns they begin supper but are interrupted by a knock on the door. Manon changes her mind and tries to stop him answering, but he does so and is taken away.
SCENE 1: The fair at Cours-la-Reine in Paris
There is a milling crowd, buying, selling and enjoying the sights. Guillot, rejected by Pousette, Rosette and Javotte, who have found other friends, plans to take Manon from Bretigny when he learns from him that he has refused Manon's request to bring the opera to her.
Manon rejoices in the luxury which now surrounds her. She leaves Bretigny to make some purchases but returns in time to overhear a conversation between him and the Count Des Grieux, the father of her lover. She learns that he is about to take holy orders and will preach that very evening. Sending Bretigny off on an errand, she approaches the count. Without identifying herself (though he does know who she is as Bretigny has pointed her out), she asks if his son had been grieved at parting from his mistress. The count tells her how much his son suffered and advises her to do the wise thing and forget him.
Guillot triumphantly announces the arrival of the opera, but their performance is virtually ignored by Manon, whose mind is distracted. To the surprise of her cousin, to whom she confides her intention, she sets off for the seminary of Saint Sulpice.
SCENE 2: The parlor of the seminary of Saint Sulpice
People coming from the chapel praise the eloquence of Des Grieux. He is greeted by his father who tries to persuade him not to enter the church but to marry some good girl, but he remains firm in his intentions of taking vows, so his father promises him 30,000 crowns.
Des Grieux has not been able to forget Manon completely, but when she is admitted to see him he bids her begone, reproaching her for her treachery. But she realises that he still loves her and passionately reminds him of their happy days together. Eventually his reserve breaks down and he declares his love again.
The Hotel Transylvania in Paris, a gambling house
Lescaut is winning and tells Pousette, Rosette and Javotte that the lady of his heart is the queen of spades. Des Grieux and Manon arrive, to the annoyance of Guillot. Their money is gone and Manon tells Des Grieux that a fortune can easily be found again. Lescaut advises him to achieve this by gambling. He consents reluctantly and plays against Guillot, whom he beats several times. Guillot stops the game angrily and leaves the room, promising to be back. He returns with the police, accusing Des Grieux of cheating and Manon of being his accomplice. The Count Des Grieux, who has also appeared, tells his son that he has come to save him from a life of shame, promising that he will soon be released. But for Manon there is no hope of freedom.
The road to Le Havre
Des Grieux and Lescaut have prepared an ambush to rescue Manon, who is being deported, but their plans are foiled when their men take fright and run away. Lescaut rejects Des Grieux's suggestion that the two of them mount a rescue, as he has a better idea. When their quarry appears, a band of girls of easy virtue under the escort of a group of soldiers who feel this task is beneath them, Lescaut bribes the sergeant to let Manon stop and speak with them. Manon, half-dead with weariness, weeps at her reunion with Des Grieux and assures him that despite her frivolous inclinations she really loved him all the time. He tells her that liberty is at hand but she answers that it is too late: she is dying.
He is unwilling to believe this and tries to revive her with memories of their past happiness. She joins him in these recollections but then dies in his arms.