Ulysses "Ulee" Jackson (Peter Fonda) is a widowed beekeeper who has his hands full running his honey business and raising his two granddaughters. Ulee is stubbornly independent and traditionally refuses help. Ulee's son Jimmy is in prison for robbery, and Jimmy's wife Helen has run off. One day, Ulee visits Jimmy in prison, and Jimmy tells him that Helen is living with his friends Eddie and Ferris, and she is sick. Eddie and Ferris were Jimmy's accomplices in the robbery, but he wouldn't give them up. When Ulee goes to pick up Helen, he discovers her illness is actually a drug addiction. Eddie and Ferris also tell Ulee that she told them that Jimmy hid the money from the robbery and has one week to get it to them, or they will hurt the granddaughters.
Ulee returns home with Helen, who is belligerent due to her drug withdrawal. One of the granddaughters gets their neighbor Connie (Patricia Richardson), who is a nurse, to help her mother. With Connie coming over all the time, Ulee begins to open up to her and they become friends.
A couple of days later, Ulee learns that the money is hidden in the swamp near his bee field. He tells Eddie and Ferris that he will deliver the money to them in a few days, but they decide that they can't wait and travel to Ulee's house. They tie up Helen and the granddaughters and take Ulee by gunpoint to the bee field. Connie, sensing something is wrong, comes to the house and finds the women tied up. At the field, while locating the money, Ulee kicks the gun into the swamp. Once they return to town, Eddie stabs Ulee and he and Ferris drive off, only to get immediately arrested by the sheriff.
At the end, Ulee and Connie begin a relationship, Helen is well enough to resume her motherly duties, and Jimmy announces that he is up for parole in a year. Ulee agrees to let Jimmy into the honey business once he is released from prison.