The novel is set in St. Petersburg, Russia, in the mid-1860s. Meet the star of Crime and Punishment: a young, good looking "ex-student," dressed in rags, as he's coming out of his crummy little room. His name is Raskolnikov and he's thinking of doing something really, really bad, and even has a plan. He's talking to himself, and doesn't think he's really capable of doing the mysterious bad deed, and isn't even sure he wants to. Still, he's actually doing a practice run, as we speak.
He gets to the pawnbroker's house. Her name is Alyona Ivanovna, and she's a mean old lady, who lives with her half sister Lizaveta, who is mentally challenged and, unlike her sister, a very sweet person. Raskolnikov pawns his father's watch, and it becomes clear that the bad thing he wants to do is…murder. He wants to kill Alyona and steal her money. But he's not sure if he can, should, or will go through with it.
On his way back home, he goes to a bar and meets Marmeladov, an unemployed drunk, and hears his sad story: Marmeladov is married to Katerina. Katerina has three young kids from a previous marriage, and Marmeladov has an eighteen-year-old daughter, Sonia, from his previous marriage. Since Marmeladov is a drunk, and money is tight, Katerina made Sonia start selling sex for money, and now Sonia lives by herself, because the other tenants in the Marmeladov's building didn't want a prostitute living there. Eventually, Raskolnikov takes Marmeladov home. Seeing how bad things are there, he leaves some money on a windowsill for Katerina to find, and then goes home.
Back at his room, Raskolnikov goes to sleep. When he wakes up, he gets a letter from his mother, Pulcheria. From the letter he learns that his sister, Dounia, is finally free from working as a nanny for the Svidrigaïlov family. Mr. Svidrigaïlov had been sexually harassing her, but she couldn't leave because she owed him money (which she had borrowed to help Raskolnikov). She's paid back the money, and now plans to marry a guy named Pyotr Petrovitch Luzhin, who sounds like a total schmuck. Now Dounia and Pulcheria are moving to St. Petersburg. They think that Luzhin will be able to help Raskolnikov get back on his feet.
The letter freaks out Raskolnikov, and he leaves his room. He thinks Dounia is only marrying Luzhin to help him. He compares Dounia to Sonia, and vows that he will stop the wedding. But, he doesn't know how he'll stop it, because he doesn't have any money or power. He falls asleep in some bushes and dreams that he's a little boy. In the dream he sees a horse brutally beaten.
When he wakes, he decides he can't possibly kill the pawnbroker with an axe, like he planned. But then he sees the pawnbroker's sister, Lizaveta in the marketplace, and learns that she won't be home that night. Which means there wouldn't be any obstacles to Raskolnikov committing the murder as planned. This information makes him renew his murderous scheme.
Later that night, he "borrows" an axe, goes to the pawnbroker's house, and splits her skull. As he's stealing her stuff, Lizaveta comes in (because Raskolnikov forgot to lock the door) and he kills her too. Raskolnikov manages to steal a few things, almost gets caught leaving the scene, and manages to get home, where he falls asleep.
He wakes up very early the next morning and tries to hide all evidence in his room, and then falls asleep again. When he wakes up, he takes the stuff he stole from the pawnbroker and hides it under a rock. He then goes to see his friend Razumihin, acts really weird, goes back home, and falls asleep. He has a horrible fever and is sick for about a week. When he wakes up, he has a hard time remembering what happened, but then it all comes back to him.
Razumihin thinks Raskolnikov is acting strange when he visits him and so comes to look for him. He decides to take care of Raskolnikov during his illness. He buys Raskolnikov new clothes with some money that came from Pulcheria while Raskolnikov was sick.
Luzhin, Dounia's fiancé, comes to visit, and Raskolnikov threatens him and makes him leave. Raskolnikov manages to get everybody else out of his room, too, then puts on his new duds and hits the street.
He goes to the Crystal Palace and runs into Zametov, a cop. He plays with Zametov, and practically confesses to the murder, but then says he's just fooling around. Later that evening, he finds Marmeladov on the verge of death. In his drunken state, he was run over by a horse-drawn carriage. Raskolnikov convinces the cops that Marmeladov should go home to die, and helps get him there. Marmeladov dies, and Raskolnikov finally gets to see Sonia. He gives all his money to Marmeladov's widow, Katerina ,and then leaves. Sonia's little sister, Polenka, follows him down the stairs and gets his name and address.
When he gets back to his room, his mother and sister are waiting for him. He'd forgotten all about them coming. He acts really weird toward them, and tells them he won't let Dounia get married because Luzhin is a jerk, and he doesn't want Dounia selling herself for his sake. Eventually, Raskolnikov makes everybody leave and he passes out again. Meanwhile, Razumihin takes care of Raskolnikov's mother and sister and does everything he can to make them feel better. He also falls in love with Dounia, but thinks he will never be worthy of her.
The next day, they all meet back up in Raskolnikov's room. Raskolnikov is doing much better, and even manages to carry on a fairly normal conversation. He learns that Luzhin sent Pulcheria and Dounia a letter saying he wanted to meet them the following night, but that he didn't want Raskolnikov there. If Raskolnikov was there, he would leave and it would be Dounia's fault. However, Dounia wants Raskolnikov and Razumihin to be there, and they agree.
All of a sudden, Sonia comes into the room. She's here to invite Raskolnikov to her father's funeral and the dinner after. Pulcheria and Dounia leave, and Raskolnikov tells Razumihin that he pawned some stuff with the murdered pawnbroker, and wants to know how to get it back. Razumihin says he'll take him to see Porfiry, the guy investigating the murders. Raskolnikov tells Sonia he wants to come over later to talk to her, and he gets her address.
Then they all go to the street. Sonia leaves them, and is followed by an older man (Svidrigaïlov). He's happy to see that they live in the same building, right next door to each other. He talks to her, but she doesn't say anything back.
Raskolnikov and Razumihin go to visit Porfiry, and have a long conversation about crime. Turns out, Raskolnikov wrote an article about crime, and Porfiry read it in a magazine. This is news to Raskolnikov – he didn't even know it was published. In the article Raskolnikov argues that there are both "ordinary" and "extraordinary" people, and that the extraordinary ones have the "right" to kill – but only if the murder is necessary in order to help make progress in the world.
Later, Raskolnikov is sleeping in his room. When he wakes up, he finds Svidrigaïlov (Dounia's sketchy former employer) sitting there watching him. Now that his wife is dead, he's come to St. Petersburg to try to hook up with Dounia. Raskolnikov says he'll do anything to keep Svidrigaïlov away from his sister.
Luckily, Razumihin shows up, and they all leave. It's almost time for the big meeting with Luzhin. The meeting doesn't go well for Luzhin. When Dounia tells him to be beat it, he accuses her of selling herself to Svidrigaïlov, a known child molester and murderer. He blames Raskolnikov for everything, and vows revenge.
After Luzhin leaves, Raskolnikov tells everybody that they should leave him alone, and not try to see him or talk to him. He has stuff to do, and he doesn't want them around. He tells Razumihin to stay with his mother and sister and take care of them. Then he goes to Sonia's place, and is pretty mean to her. He says he will return the next day to tell her who killed Lizaveta (who was Sonia's friend). It also turns out that Svidrigaïlov (who lives next door to her) is listening through the wall and hears everything.
The next day, Raskolnikov goes to see Porfiry at the police station. Porfiry basically accuses Raskolnikov of being the murderer, but then another man, Nikolay, comes in and confesses!
Later that day, the dinner in honor of Marmeladov is being held in Katerina's flat. Luzhin happens to be staying in that same building, with a guy named Andrey Semyonovitch, who Luzhin really doesn't like. He gets Andrey Semyonovitch to bring Sonia to see him. Luzhin gives her ten roubles, and tells her he's going to try to help Katerina and the orphans. At the dinner itself, Katerina makes a huge scene and insults her landlady repeatedly. When the two women are fighting, Luzhin arrives at the dinner. He walks up to Sonia, and accuses her of stealing a hundred roubles from him. She denies it, but the bill is found in her pocket!
Luckily, Andrey Semyonovitch has been listening by the door and he tells everybody that he saw Luzhin slip Sonia the money. Raskolnikov says this was part of Luzhin's plan to try to get Dounia back (it doesn't make much sense), and Luzhin leaves, again vowing revenge on Raskolnikov, determined to get Dounia back. The landlady wants to evict Katerina and the kids, and Sonia leaves.
Later, Raskolnikov goes to Sonia's and tells her that he killed Lizaveta. She says she'll follow him to prison, and advises him to surrender to God, and the cops. Soon, Andrey Semyonovitch shows up and tells her that Katerina is down on the street begging with the kids, out of her mind, and making a big scene. On the street, Katerina dies, and her body is taken to Sonia's house. Svidrigaïlov shows up and reveals to Raskolnikov that he heard his confession to Sonia.
Raskolnikov has another meeting with Porfiry, who again tells Raskolnikov he knows he's guilty of murder, and that it will only be a matter of time before he confesses. After that, Raskolnikov goes looking for Svidrigaïlov, and they have a long and creepy conversation. Raskolnikov tries to stick by Svidrigaïlov that night, but the man manages to lose him. Svidrigaïlov meets Dounia, and holds her prisoner in his room. He seems about to rape her, but she shoots him, causing just a little wound, and then he lets her go. Soon after, Svidrigaïlov gets a hotel room and has tons of nightmares. In the morning, he shoots himself while standing next to a policeman on the street.
Meanwhile, Sonia pressures Raskolnikov to turn himself in, which he does. He's sentenced to eight years in Siberia, and Sonia follows him there. Meanwhile Razumihin and Dounia get married. The newlywed couple plans to move to Siberia in the near future.
Sonia is doing well in Siberia. Everybody loves her. Unfortunately, Raskolnikov still treats her like dirt and hates the world. Some prisoners want to kill him because they think he's an atheist, but the warden intervenes.
Raskolnikov gets sick and has to go to the hospital. After leaving the hospital, he meets Sonia by a beautiful riverbank where he is working. Something comes over him, and he feels real love for her. He will have to go through lots of struggles and suffering, but after he gets out of prison (in seven years), he will have found a new way to live and he will be happy, and so will Sonia. And that's the end of that.