One Saturday, Marty Piletti, a stocky, homely thirty-four-year-old Bronx butcher, dismisses the questions of his nosy customers, who want to know when he will get married now that the last of his younger siblings has wed. After work, Marty goes to Michael's restaurant, where he "hangs out" with his best friend Angie. With nothing to do that night, Angie urges Marty to call Mary Feeney, a girl they met a month before, but he refuses, saying that he is tired of looking for a girl. At his home, which Marty shares with his Italian-born mother Teresa, Marty's cousin Tommy and his wife Virginia complain that Tommy's mother Catherine is not getting along with Virginia, and ask Teresa if Catherine, her sister, can move in with her. Marty and Teresa agree, and Marty makes an appointment to talk with Tommy, an accountant, about the feasibility of buying his boss's butcher shop. Marty then calls Mary and asks her out, but she harshly rejects him. Later, during dinner, Teresa suggests that Marty go to the Stardust Ballroom, which, she has learned from Tommy, is "loaded with tomatoes." Although Marty laughs at first, he gets angry when she nags him and cries out that he does not have what women want. When she warns that he will die without a son, he yells that he is a fat, ugly man and does not want to get hurt anymore. Marty resigns himself to going, however, and at the ballroom, a man offers him five dollars to take home a blind date whom the man thinks is unattractive and boring. The chivalrous Marty, stating that the man should not treat a woman like that, demurs. The man finds someone else to accept, but the woman, Clara Snyder, a twenty-nine-year-old high school chemistry teacher from Brooklyn, announces that she will go home alone. She then walks out to the fire escape and when Marty kindly asks her to dance, she cries on his shoulder. While the couple dances, Marty assures her that she is not the "dog" she thinks she is and confesses that he has also suffered from rejection. As Marty and Clara walk from the dance hall, he surprises himself by talking excitedly about his life. He explains that because of the burdens of supporting his family, he could not attend college, but is buoyed by Clara’s declaration that being a butcher is not a bad job, and that if he wants to buy the butcher shop, he should. Clara then reveals that she has a chance to take an advanced position outside the city, and Marty advises her not to be afraid to leave her father and mother. Meanwhile, Teresa is visiting Catherine, who tells her how awful it is being an old widow, with no husband to cook and clean for, and ungrateful children who do not want her. Catherine warns Teresa, who is also a widow, that she will be in a similar position if Marty marries, and Teresa begins to reconsider her constant pressuring of her son. Marty takes Clara to his house, but sensing that she is nervous, offers to take her home. While helping her on with her coat, Marty impulsively tries to kiss her, but Clara pulls away. After Marty mournfully declares that he only wanted a kiss, the shy Clara confesses that she did not know how to handle the situation. As Marty sulks, Clara says she would like to see him again, calling him the kindest man she has met. They make plans to see a movie the next night, and when he also intimates that he wants to have a future with her, by asking her for a New Year's Eve date, they hug and kiss. Just then, Teresa returns and explains her sister's situation to Clara. Clara upsets Teresa when she asserts that she does not think it is good for parents to live with their married children and that they should not depend on their children for their happiness. While Marty is walking Clara to the bus, he runs into Angie, who, because he is angry that Marty left the ballroom without him, barely acknowledges Clara. After saying goodnight at Clara's door, Marty is exuberant. The next morning, Tommy and Virginia, arguing bitterly over his mother, arrive at Marty's with Catherine. Marty tries to ask Tommy about buying the store, but a distraught Tommy questions why Marty, a single man, would want to saddle himself with a mortgage and responsibilities. In the kitchen, Catherine tells Teresa that college girls such as Clara are "one step up from the street" and warns that Marty will soon suggest they move to an apartment, where Teresa will be just an old lady sleeping on a couch in her daughter-in-law's apartment. Just then, Marty comes in and, noticing some fallen plaster, casually suggests they sell the house. Just before Mass, a now-worried Teresa tells Marty not to bring Clara to the house again, saying there are plenty of nice Italian girls in the neighborhood. Later, at Michael's, Marty is disturbed to learn that Angie has been describing Clara as a “dog.” After his buddies, who quote novelist Mickey Spillane and gaze at girlie magazines, inform him that it is bad for his reputation to go out with "dogs," Marty gives in to peer pressure and does not phone Clara, despite his earlier anticipation of seeing her again. As he and his friends face another tedious night at Michael's, however, Marty explodes, calling them miserable, lonely and stupid. Marty then announces that if he continues to have good times with Clara, he will beg her to marry him. He then goes to call Clara, and when Angie follows, he asks his pal when he is going to get married.