Two boys in post-war Rome earn their living by shining shoes on American soldiers. Pasquale is 15 years old and homeless. His younger companion, Giuseppe, has a family, but they live as refugees on some square meters in a big apartment, where many families are gathered. The two boys have developed a strong bond of friendship. Together they collect their savings for a common goal: to buy a horse. Giuseppe's older brother is a criminal. He and his companions persuade the boys to sell some stolen American blankets to a lady on their behalf. The young boys don't understand that they are used in the gang's plot to rob the lady. When they are in her apartment, the criminal gang enters masqueraded as policemen, who accuse her of black-market transactions while they steal her money. The gangsters give the boys a large sum of money and tell them to shut up. Now the two boys have enough money to buy the horse, which they house in a stable in the outskirts of Rome. The next day Pasquale and Giuseppe are arrested by the police, when the lady recognizes them in the street. They are taken to a jail as juvenile delinquents, and now their long career downwards in this dark part of society begins. They are split in two different cells. The police try to get some information about the criminal gang from them, and with the help of a trick the police finally get Pasquale to reveal that Giuseppe's brother is one of the gangsters. For Giuseppe this betrayal is the end of their friendship. From now on they are driven into a negative spiral of actions against each other - until it ends in a tragedy.