Monterey, California in the 1940's. Cannery Row - the section of town where the now closed fish canneries are located - is inhabited primarily by the down and out, although many would not move away even if they could. Probably the most upstanding citizen in the area is Doc, a marine biologist who earns a living primarily by collecting and selling marine specimens for research. He is a lost soul who is looking for his place in life. He is running away from his past, one where he is trying to make amends for what he considers a past wrong. But his current life isn't totally satisfying either. He believes that his recent collection of eight baby octopi will help him define that future in conducting research on their behavior. However, he is finding that research is not as easy as he had hoped, and that he is still feeling restless. Into the area comes drifter Suzy DeSoto. She too is a lost soul. With few job skills, she gets a job as what she calls a floozy in the local whorehouse, despite her openly headstrong demeanor not making her well suited to the work. Doc and Suzy are immediately attracted to each other, but theirs is a clash of personalities, despite each truly liking the other. The other residents of Cannery Row do their part for a Doc/Suzy coupling, not always with successful results. Doc and Suzy will first have to find their own lot in life before they can commit to someone else, be it the other or anyone else.