Travis Bickle, a 26-year-old honorably discharged U.S. Marine, is a lonely, depressed young man living on his own in New York City. He becomes a taxi driver to cope with his chronic insomnia, driving passengers every night around the city’s boroughs. He also spends time in porn theaters and keeps a diary. Travis becomes infatuated with Betsy, a campaign volunteer for Senator and presidential candidate Charles Palantine. After watching her interact with fellow worker Tom through her window, Travis enters to volunteer, as a pretext to talk to her, and takes her out for coffee. On a later date, he takes her to see a pornographic film, which offends her, and she goes home alone. His attempts at reconciliation by sending flowers are rebuffed, so he berates her at the campaign office, before being kicked out by Tom.
Travis confides in fellow taxi driver Wizard about his thoughts, which are beginning to turn violent; however, Wizard assures him that he will be fine, leaving Travis to his own destructive path. Travis is disgusted by the sleaze, dysfunction, and prostitution that he witnesses throughout the city, and attempts to find an outlet for his frustrations by beginning a program of intense physical training.
A fellow taxi driver refers Travis to illegal gun dealer, Easy Andy, from whom Travis buys a number of handguns. At home, Travis practices drawing his weapons and constructs a sleeve gun to hide and then quickly deploy a gun from his sleeve.
One night, Travis enters a convenience store moments before an attempted armed robbery, and he fatally shoots the robber. The shop owner takes responsibility for the shooting, taking Travis’ handgun.
Earlier, child prostitute Iris had entered Travis’ cab, attempting to escape her pimp Matthew “Sport” Higgins. Sport dragged Iris from the cab and threw Travis a crumpled $20 bill, which continually reminds Travis of her and the corruption that surrounds him.