An unknown woman leaves a charity hospital carrying her newborn son. An artist, the apparent father, is shown with the woman’s photograph. When it falls into the fireplace, he first picks it up, then throws it back in to burn up. The woman decides to abandon her child in the back seat of an expensive automobile with a handwritten note imploring the finder to care for and love the baby. However, the car is stolen. When the two thieves discover the child, they leave him on the street. The Tramp finds the baby. Unwilling at first to take on the responsibility, he eventually softens and names the boy John. Elsewhere, the woman has an apparent change of heart and returns for the baby, but is heartbroken and faints upon learning of the baby having been taken away.
Five years pass, and the child becomes the Tramp’s partner in minor crime, throwing stones to break windows that the Tramp, working as a glazier, can then repair. Meanwhile, the woman becomes a wealthy star. She does charity work among the poor to fill the void left by her missing child. By chance, the mother and child cross paths, but do not recognize each other. When the boy becomes sick, a doctor comes to see him. He discovers that the Tramp is not the boy’s father. The Tramp shows him the note left by the mother, but the doctor merely takes it and notifies the authorities. Two men come to take the boy to an orphanage, but after a fight and a chase, the Tramp regains the boy. When the woman comes back to see how the boy is doing, the doctor tells her what has happened, then shows her the note, which she recognizes.
Now fugitives, the Tramp and the boy spend the night in a flophouse, but the manager, having read of the $1,000 reward offered for the child, takes him to the police station to be united with his ecstatic mother. When the Tramp wakes up, he searches frantically for the missing boy, then returns to doze beside the now-locked doorway to their humble home. In his sleep, he enters “Dreamland,” with angels in residence and devilish interlopers. He is awakened by a policeman, who places the Tramp in a car and rides with him to a house. When the door opens, the woman and John emerge, reuniting the elated adoptive father and son. The policeman, who is happy for the family, shakes the Tramp’s hand and leaves, before the woman welcomes the Tramp into her home.