Midnight Cowboy is the story of two men who become best friends. The movie centers around the aspirations of a young man from Texas who makes his way to New York in hopes of becoming a professional gigolo for lonely women. The Texan, named Joe Buck meets an unlikely character in the form of Enrico Rizzo, who is better known by the nickname Ratso. Ratso is a street wise hustler who manages to trick Joe out of his last $20. Joe begins to learn that life in the big city is very different than what he expected. Instead of acquiring wealth by providing companionship to lonely women, Joe ends up running into people in hard luck situations like himself.
After his first encounter with Ratso, Joe sees him again and the two begin forming a friendship. Ratso offers to share his living quarters with Joe, which turns out to be located in a condemned building. Neither of the two men has any money or any real prospects for obtaining money. Ratso offers to help Joe find wealthy women to seduce in return for a share of the money. During the course of the story, Ratso develops a cough which progressively worsens due to their poor living conditions. As the mild summer months give way to the bitter cold of winter, Ratso's health deteriorates even quicker.
While Joe had big dreams of making it in New York, Ratso also had dreams. His dream is to make enough money to afford a ticket to Florida, where the climate is always warm and sunny. Joe, on the other hand does have some luck making friends with some women in the upper class. He is a good looking young man who does appeal to some wealthy women looking to have a good time.
The turning point in the story comes almost toward the end of the movie when Joe finally hooks up with a woman who appears to be the ticket he was looking for. While he is out, Ratso suffers a fall because his condition has deteriorated so much he has lost the use of his legs. When Joe finds him, his only request is to get to Florida.