Joseph Andrews is a young and good-looking footman who works for Sir Thomas Booby. Lady Booby, the wife of his employer, is attracted to him sexually and starts to show him her affection. The other person who is interested in Joseph, though in more spiritual sense, is Mr. Abraham Adams who sees the great potential in the young man and wishes to help him develop it, also increasing his morality. He is planning to teach Joseph Latin, and the young man gladly accepts this offer, but unfortunately, the Boobys move to London and Joseph has to go with them. There Joseph faces a lot of temptation that the big city offers to the average footman, but despite this and the advances of Lady Booby he stays adamant. After a year of such a life Sir Thomas passes away and the widow doubles her efforts to get Joseph. But the problem is that he has too low self-esteem and too naive nature (or vice versa is too savvy) to react properly. In his letter to his sister Pamela Joseph describes the situation, adding that it is impossible for such a sophisticated lady to be truly interested in a servant. Soon, Lady Booby becomes not the only one source of unwanted attention. Lady Booby’s waiting-gentlewoman, Mrs. Slipslop, who isn’t as young, as beautiful and as tender as her lady, makes the attempt to get Joseph’s attention that mostly resembles rape.
Gradually, Lady Booby becomes irritated by the constant refusals. She sends for Joseph again and again, but he continues to react the same way. Finally, the enraged lady fires him after the days of painful thoughts about her love. Peter Pounce, another of her servants, brings the news to Joseph together with his money and papers. Joseph feels a great relief, because the situation he was in was highly embarrassing for him, moreover he thought that Lady Booby was mentally unstable and that, and not love, was the cause of her behavior.
Joseph returns home to finally meet again with his fiancée, a poor and illiterate but sweet and innocent girl named Fanny Goodwill, who works as a milkmaid. But the next night, when Joseph, content with his life, decides to take a walk, the Two Ruffians catch him, rob and beat him to half-death, leaving on the ground to his fate. Soon a stage-coach passes by, but the passengers of it see the body and go all victimblaming, hypocritically stating that Joseph doesn’t need and doesn’t deserve help. The situation is saved by the lawyer who says that if no one helps him, all the passengers may later be blamed of his death and face a trial for assisting in a murder. The passengers agree to take Joseph into the coach, bring him to the inn and call a doctor. A kind chambermaid named Betty tends to his wounds, but the doctor examines him and concludes that the wounds are deadly, and it is most possibly that Joseph wouldn’t make it to the morning.
Still, Joseph survives. The innkeeper calls a clergyman, Mr. Barnabas, to minister the dying man, but it appears that Joseph is determined to leave. Mrs. Towwouse, the wife of the innkeeper is behaving strangely (poor Joseph is definitely a women bait!) but also helps him a lot. Soon, another man comes to spend a night in the inn – he is Mr. Adams, the clergyman who wanted to teach Joseph. He heads to London to publish his religious works there. Joseph is glad to see him, and the joy is mutual. Mr. Adams gives him some money and orders food for him. Mr. Adams doesn’t have much, but he tries his best to comfort his protégé. Mr. Barnabas, seeing a fellow clergyman, offers him the service of the Bookseller he knows well. However, the Bookseller isn’t interested in religious works. But when they argue, they hear screams on the second floor and rush there. It appears that Betty tried to have sex with barely alive Joseph, but was rejected and decided to satisfy herself with Mr. Towwouse. There she was caught by Mrs. Towwouse.
To aid Joseph, Mr. Adams borrows money from his familiar servant from another coach passing by. He says his farewells to Joseph but suddenly discovers that he forgot his works at home, so he can’t go to London to publish them. They return home, having only one horse and riding it in turns, but another coach agrees to pick up a clergyman, so he gives the horse to Adams. In the coach Mr. Adams involuntarily listens to the gossips about the eccentric woman named Leonora. He and Joseph meet in the inn, discuss their day and have a quarrel with the innkeeper. Next day they switch places: Joseph travels via coach and Adams should have taken the horse, but he somehow forgot he has a horse. The clergyman walks his way on foot.
He meets a Sportsman, who is a big boaster and talks a lot about his own bravery and bravery in general as the most valuable virtue. Soon they hear a woman screaming. The Sportsman, who has a gun, runs away not even trying to help, and Adams feels morally obliged to save her from the rapist. The clergyman was strong enough to knock the offender out so hard that later he is afraid that he might have killed him. But when he aids the woman, people start to gather. The man comes to his senses and plays a victim, accusing both the woman and the clergyman of attacking and robbing him. Both Adams and the woman he saved are dragged to the court and people think that they would be rewarded for catching the criminals. When they go, Mr. Adams understands that the woman he saved is Fanny Goodwill, Joseph’s fiancée. She heard that Joseph is in trouble and went to find him but got into trouble herself.
The Judge doesn’t want to investigate the case and just orders to imprison both Fanny and Adams. Adams is saved by occasional witness, who gives his word that Mr. Adams is a clergyman and a decent person. The Judge immediately cancels his order, commanding to imprison the accuser instead, but he slipped away without any punishment. Adams escorts Fanny to the next inn near the road where he hopes Joseph is already resting. Joseph is indeed there and he is incredibly glad to see Fanny intact. When he hears the story of her bravery and the reasons that caused her to leave home, he becomes so amazed with her selflessness that he asks Adams to marry them right in the inn. Fanny wants a real wedding though and Adams also persuades Joseph to be patient.
When they get a bill from the inn, Adams realizes that he can’t pay for three people anymore. He goes to find another person ready to lend him some more money. He finds Parson Trulliber, a rich farmer, who reacts angrily when Adams asks him to think about his soul and help the people in need. Sad Adams returns to the inn, but the second attempt is luckier, the Pedlar is more generous and gives Adams a loan that is enough to finish their travel. They continue walking and meet the fancy Squire on the road. The Squire promises to give them shelter and pay for the coach for them to travel, but when the coach appears, the Squire pretends that he said nothing. Shocked and disappointed, the travelers tell the next innkeeper about the Squire and he says that he knows that man, who always makes worthless promises.
They continue travelling, but suddenly they see mysterious lights dancing ahead of them. Mr. Adams think that they are ghosts and prays for them, but later they appear to be just the lanterns of the thieves who came for the sheep. The thieves notice the travelers and they have to run for their life to the nearest home of the Wilsons. The women go to sleep, and Mr. Wilson sits with Adams and Joseph for some more time, telling them his story that would be much more miserable if not his love for Mrs. Wilson and her self-sacrifice to make him a better man. Mr. Wilson also says that the gypsies stole his oldest kid long ago.
Grateful to Wilsons for their hospitality, the travelers leave in the morning and discuss Wilson’s story on their way. Adams uses it as an example for Joseph, telling him about good and evil, sin and redemption. When they camp to have their dinner, they see a pack of hunting dogs that pursue a hare, but suddenly the dogs decide to attack Mr. Adams instead. The travelers have to defend themselves, killing and injuring the dogs. Soon the pack’s owner appears: he is a notorious Squire, nicknamed a “Hunter of the Men”. At first, he is angered to see that the “prey” survived, but when he sees how beautiful Fanny is, he becomes overly sweet, apologizes and invites the strangers to his mansion.
The dinner with him is full of passive aggression towards Mr. Adams. When his patience is over, he announces that they are leaving immediately. When they go, the Squire orders his servants to follow them and steal Fanny from them. The servants pursue them to the next inn and attack at night. The men fight bravely, but they are heavily outnumbered, so both Mr. Adams and Joseph are tied to their beds and Fanny is gone. But when Fanny is transported back to the mansion, the group of the servants of Lady Booby notices her and fights her abductors. The servants return her back to the inn, where Adams and Joseph are waiting for her. The travelers, angered and frustrated, continue the journey. Mr. Adams is now in a couch with Peter Pounce as a neighboring passenger. Peter insults the clergyman so much that Adams finally chooses to walk on foot again. Joseph and Fanny ride his horse and they all finally arrive to Lady Booby’s land where they started.
Soon, Lady Booby herself comes. Hearing that Joseph is going to marry, she furiously objects, saying that she doesn’t need more beggar families on her land. Adams, who she calls to help her oppose the wedding, adamantly refuses. Then Lady Booby hires a lawyer named Scout who makes out lots of fake reasons that prove the future marriage illegal and impossible. The Judge, who accused Fanny before, is as ignorant as before, so when Lady Booby with her lawyer show him the materials, he is ready to call Joseph and Fanny to the court to ban them from marriage.
Suddenly, the young nephew of Lady Booby comes to visit his aunt with his wife. Miraculously, Mrs. Booby appears to be Pamela, Joseph’s sister. Seeing that his brother-in-law is in trouble and this makes his wife very upset, Mr. Booby interrupts the trial and saves Joseph and Fanny from his aunt. He invites Joseph to his house to know his new relative better, when Fanny is comforted by Adams in his home. But the next day Lady Booby makes another try of destroying the engagement of Fanny and Joseph, convincing her nephew to help her against them. Fanny, tired of waiting, comes to Booby’s house for Joseph, but is assaulted by the man named Beau Didapper. She manages to turn him down, and is rescued by Joseph.
Joseph takes Fanny back to the home of clergyman and they have a premarital counseling, where Adams emphasizes that keeping one’s emotions at bay is the foremost virtue of family life. The counseling is interrupted by the news that Adams’ youngest son Dick has just drowned in the river. Adams breaks down and cries, until Dick, alive and intact, runs back home, telling that he was rescued by the man named Pedlar – the same one who gave money to Adams in one of the inns. Adams’ happiness is infinite, he heartfully thanks Pedlar and then continues the counseling. Joseph tries to say that it looks quite hypocritical after all the emotions Adams showed, but in vain.
Lady Booby, who watches Fanny and Joseph, decides to use Beau Didapper to seduce Fanny or disgrace her, thus destroying the future marriage. She seemingly innocently invites him and both Boobys to the house of the clergyman, where Beau continues his advances, enraging Joseph to no end. Mr. Booby, finally gives up and asks why such a clever and promising young man is wasting his time for the simple illiterate milkmaid? It is enough for Joseph. He loudly promises to never speak to anyone who doesn’t accept his future wife and leaves. In the evening he, Fanny, Pedlar and Adams family meet in the alehouse and Pedlar announces the solemn news: he talked to Mr. and Mrs. Addams and it seems that Fanny is their long-lost daughter. So, if it’s true, she and Joseph are siblings and can’t marry in any case. Devastated, the couple decides to go to Booby Hall and demand the meeting with Mr. and Mrs. Andrews who will tell the truth in the presence of the noble witnesses.
When they go to sleep in the Booby Hall, everything goes wrong. At first Beau Didapper tries to break into Fanny’s bedroom but misses the right door and sleeps with Mrs. Slipslop instead. Mrs. Slipslop cries for help, pleading to save her from the rapist and Mr. Adams with all his morals, comes for aid, but in the darkness he mistakes Mrs. Slipslop for her offender and attacks her, while Didapper runs away. Lady Booby, woken by the screams, comes to see what happened and sees Mr. Adams in Mrs. Slipslop’s bedroom, doing something suspicious in bed. Mr. Adams manages to explain the awkward situation and retreats in his room. But the poor clergyman also takes the wrong turn and ends up in Fanny’s bedroom. Fanny sleeps well, so both of them spend a night in the same bed, not aware of each other’s presence. But Joseph, who comes to wake his fiancée up is shocked and angry to see her with clergyman. Luckily, this time Mr. Adams also manages to explain the whole situation.
Adams leaves them alone and Fanny and Joseph promise each other that if they are siblings for real, they won’t marry any other people, staying faithful to their love forever. They go to the hall where everyone is waiting for Joseph’s parents. They arrive and announce that Fanny is their daughter, who was stolen when she was still a baby. But after the moment of despair for the lovers, they add that Joseph is the adopted one, a changeling baby they found in the cradle instead of their daughter. Suddenly the Pedlar, seeing a prominent birthmark on Joseph’s chest (he took his shirt off to let the witnesses examine him), remembers that Mr. Wilson has the same one and Adams remembers his story about the abduction of his son. Luckily, Mr. Wilson is passing nearby just in time to be invited into Booby Hall and reunited with his son.
Lady Booby leaves, angered that her plan didn’t work. Everyone else goes to the country estate of Mr. and Mrs. Booby where Fanny and Joseph can finally marry. They build a house near the Wilsons and Mr. Booby presents them a small fortune as a wedding gift. He also helps Mr. Adams with his financial troubles and gives the Pedlar a job. Lady Booby returns to London.