Nikolai Irteniev is sixteen years old. He is preparing for the entrance exams, and his soul is filled with dreams and thoughts about his further life purpose. In a separate notebook a young man writes down all the duties that are necessary for his moral perfection. In a passionate environment, their house is visited by a priest.
Confessed, the hero feels the purification of his soul from all sins, a kind of relief. However, at night the young man constantly thinks about one of his sins, which he concealed in confession, he can not fall asleep until the morning and at the dawn he goes to the monastery to confess again. Nicholas, in perfect spirits, returns home, feels himself to be the best person in the world. He tells about his behavior to the cabman, to which he replies: “And
Nikolay successfully passes the exams and goes to university, all relatives congratulate him. According to the decision of the head of the family, the coachman Kuzma, the bay Beauty and the flight deck enter the student’s disposal. The hero feels completely grown up and acquires tobacco and a tube on the Kuznetsk bridge. Trying to light a cigarette, the young man felt nauseous, and Dmitri Nekhlyudov, who came, scolded him, explaining the harmfulness and harmfulness of smoking for health. Together with Vladimir and Dubkov, friends go to the restaurant in order to celebrate the arrival of Nicholas. The hero notices that Nekhludoff is very different from his brother and Dubkov, since he does not play cards, does not smoke, does not boast of his love affairs. However, Nikolenka wants to be like Volodya, because he feels suddenly grown up. He begins to drink champagne, lights a cigarette from a candle, who was on the table in front of people he did not know, which is why he quarrels with Mr. Kolpikov. The young man feels humiliated and screams at Dubkov, taking out his insult on him. Dmitry understands the reason for his friend’s resentment and tries to calm him.
The father decides that Nikolai should make visits, as a fully grown man. The hero visits the Kornakovs, Ivins, Valakhins, Prince Ivan Ivanych. It is difficult for him to endure long hours of meaningless social conversations. Dmitry invites Nicholas to pay a visit to his mother in Kuntsevo. With a friend, the hero feels free and easy. Communicating on the road with Nekhlyudov, Nikolai realizes that growing up is not a change in time, but a slow change in the soul, its transformation.
Nicholas comes to the village, and again he is tormented by memories of his mother, of childhood. He thinks a lot about the role he will have to play in this difficult life, enjoying the beauties of nature.
At the age of forty-eight the father of the family again marries. Children do not accept their stepmother, and even after a few months of living together, their husbands begin to hate each other quietly. With the beginning of studies at the university, the hero believes that he is lost in the mass of students like him. The conditionalities adopted in society seem to Nicholas Irtenev stupid and insignificant hypocrisy, hypocrisy. He notices that his new acquaintances want to receive from life only pleasure, to live exclusively for themselves. Unconsciously the young man begins to live the same way. To study, it is easy and carefree, as a result of which it fails on the first exam. The hero does not leave the room for three days, and the visit of sympathetic Dmitry Nekhlyudov seems insulting to him.
One evening, Nikolai Irtenev finds a notebook with the inscription “Rules of life.” He cries tears of repentance and decides to write new rules, which will surely be followed unswervingly.