On the 20th of May in the year 1859, Arkady returns home to visit his father after his first semester alone at university in St. Petersburg (Nikolai always tries to go with him.).
His father, Nikolai, is ecstatic to see him, and Arkady promptly introduces a new friend, who he tells his father is very important to him – Bazarov.
As they ride back to the house, Arkady tells Nikolai that Bazarov knows everything, and that he looks up to him a great deal.
Arkady looks out on his father's land, and his heart sinks when he realizes that it is all going to ruin and he doesn't even know how to start helping him.
A moment later, Nikolai (a widow) reveals to Arkady that he is having a relationship with a young servant girl, Fenichka. Though Nikolai is embarrassed, Arkady embraces him and emphasizes that he has no problem with it whatsoever.
When Bazarov and Arkady are alone at the house, Bazarov begins making fun of Arkady's father and his Uncle Pavel for being old-fashioned. Arkady does his best to defend them.
The next morning Arkady is having tea with his father, and he notes that Fenichka hasn't been around since he got there.
His father admits she may be embarrassed, and Arkady goes and introduces himself to her.
When he returns, his Uncle Pavel joins them.
Arkady reveals to them that Bazarov is a nihilist, a "person who does not take any principle for granted, however much that principle may be revered" (5.57).
When Bazarov returns, he and Pavel have an argument. Though Arkady sides with Bazarov during the discussion, afterward he tells Bazarov that he must admit he was being very rude to Pavel.
In the hopes of evoking sympathy in Bazarov, Arkady tells him Pavel's story. Bazarov is unimpressed.
The next day, Bazarov sees Fenichka and thinks she is beautiful. Despite Arkady's protests, he goes and introduces himself to her.
There is an awkward moment when Arkady's new baby brother, Mitya, plays with Bazarov but refuses to be held by Arkady.
As they are walking back, Bazarov hears Nikolai playing the cello and laughs at such an absurd hobby. Arkady doesn't even smile.
A few weeks later, Nikolai overhears Arkady trying to defend him to Bazarov. Bazarov suggests a book by a German philosopher that Arkady should pass on to his father, which he does.
When Nikolai reveals to Pavel what happened, Pavel is angry that Arkady is trying to oversee his father's education.
At lunch, Pavel picks a fight with Bazarov, emphasizing that only silly people can exist without principles. Once again, Arkady sides with Bazarov, though he is not nearly as good at defending the position of nihilism.
Nikolai reveals to Pavel that he is worried he and Arkady are growing apart, that soon they will not be able to understand one another.
Shortly after, Arkady and Bazarov decide to go visit a wealthy relative of Arkady's, Matvei Ilyich Kolyazin.
Kolyazin takes Arkady under his wing, and invites him and Bazarov to a society ball.
At the ball, Arkady meets a beautiful woman named Madame Odintsov. He does his best to chat with her all night, but unwittingly makes Bazarov more interesting than himself by promoting him too strongly.
Madame Odintsov invites the two of them to her hotel, and then to her home at Nikolskoye.
At Nikolskoye, it becomes apparent that she is more intrigued by Bazarov then by Arkady. Arkady is confined to spending all his time with her younger sister, Katya.
He is jealous and feels as though he is being treated like a child.
After a few weeks, Bazarov and Anna Sergeyevna (Madame Odintsov) have a fight where Bazarov reveals that he is in love with her.
The next day, Bazarov and Arkady leave to go to Bazarov's home.
On the way, Bazarov tells Arkady that they have behaved like fools, and that they were too taken in by the women.
At Bazarov's home, Arkady perceives that Bazarov's parents worship him. Arkady does his best to be polite and to laugh at Vassily Ivanych's (Bazarov's father's) jokes, but Bazarov is withdrawn.
The next morning, Arkady has a long discussion with Vassily Ivanych where he reveals his deep-seated admiration of Bazarov. Vassily Ivanych is thrilled, and they agree that one day Bazarov will be a great man.
Later, Bazarov and Arkady are lying on a haystack. Bazarov is in a dark and cynical mood whereas Arkady is happy to disagree with him.
He tells him, "Stop it, Yevgeny... to hear you today, one can't help agreeing with those who reproach us for having no principles" (21.89).
Though Arkady tries to keep the tone light, Bazarov becomes very aggressive and might attack him if Vassily Ivanych didn't come to sit with them.
After dinner, Arkady tries to tell Bazarov to be easier on his parents, but Bazarov says that he is bored and that they must leave.
On the way back to Maryino, Arkady suggests a stop at Nikolskoye. It turns out to be an awkward visit, but Madame Odintsov encourages them to come back another time.
At Maryino, Arkady realizes that he can't stop thinking about Nikolskoye.
When his father reveals some letters that Madame Odintsov's mother sent to Arkady's mother, Arkady uses it as a pretext to return to Nikolskoye.
Anna Sergeyevna is happy to see him, but he realizes that Katya is the one he can't get out of his thoughts.
At Nikolskoye, Arkady spends a great deal of time with Katya, taking private walks and talking.
Katya thinks that he is coming out from under the shadow of Bazarov's influence. She tells him the truth is that Bazarov's "a wild beast, while you and I are domestic animals" (25.20).
Arkady admits his enormous admiration (without actually using the word love) for Katya, and then becomes embarrassed and walks away.
The next day, Bazarov comes to tell Arkady about the duel with Pavel. Arkady is shocked, but Bazarov assures him that everyone is fine.
At Arkady's insistence, Bazarov goes to spend time with Anna Sergeyevna. He reveals to her that Arkady was in love with her when they first met, and she begins to think of Arkady differently.
The next morning, however, Arkady invites Katya out to the portico and proposes to her. At first, he stumbles over his words, and they are interrupted when they overhear Bazarov and Anna Sergeyevna discussing her new interest in Arkady.
As soon as they are past, however, he gets the proposal out. Katya accepts with tears of joy, and both of them are very happy.
When Bazarov leaves, he has few kind words for Arkady. He tells him that he is a weak domestic spirit, like a jackdaw (birds that pair mate).
Arkady is upset that Bazarov has nothing nicer to say to him, but their parting is not unfriendly.
Shortly after Bazarov leaves, Arkady's happiness with Katya makes him forget all about Bazarov.
The book closes with Arkady's marriage to Katya. At the farewell dinner for Uncle Pavel, Katya whispers a toast to Bazarov's memory (Bazarov has now died of typhus) in his ear, and Arkady squeezes her hand.