- Hamm - unable to stand and blind
- Clov - servant of Hamm; unable to sit.
- Nagg - Hamm's father; has no legs and lives in a dustbin.
- Nell - Hamm's mother; has no legs and lives in a dustbin next to Nagg.
The English title is taken from the last part of a chess game, when there are very few pieces left (the French title applies to games besides chess and Beckett lamented the fact that there was no precise English equivalent); Beckett himself was an avid chess player.
It has also been suggested that Hamm relates to "ham actor" and Ham, son of Noah, while Clov is a truncated version of "clown," as well as suggesting cloven hoof (of the devil) and glove (a distant echo of hand and glove, perhaps). Nagg suggests nagging and the German nagen (to gnaw), while Nell recalls Dickens' Little Nell. Equally Hamm could be short for Hammer and Clov be "clove", hammer and nail representing one aspect of their relationship. In this light, Nagg and Nell, taken together, may suggest the German Nagel (nail) or Nell being a reference to the death knell to signify her death; vague references in the text to Hamm's neighbour, Mother Pegg, are also relevant. In the Paris Review article "Exorcising Beckett", Lawrence Shainberg claims that according to Beckett the characters' names signify the following: Hamm for Hammer, Clov for clou (the French for nail), Nagg for nagel (the German for nail), and Nell because of its resemblance to the death knell of the deceased.
The main character, Hamm, behaves badly, in a manner seemingly guaranteed to ensure that no audience member would like him or care about what happened to him. He succeeds. At the end, he is alone in an apparently depopulated world, his parents Nell and Nagg dead on stage in their garbage bins, and abandoned by his long-suffering servant, Clov. He is doomed to starve to death. He had shown no emotion when Nell died and Nagg, in mourning, cried before dying, presumably of a broken heart.