Lady Chatterley's Lover opens around two years after World War I, when the country of England was recovering both mentally and physically from the war. It focuses on the marriage between two characters, which has occurred prior to the events of the novel: Lady Chatterley, Constance née Reid, and her husband, Clifford Chatterley. Clifford Chatterley is an aristocrat who has inherited Wragby Hall, an estate in the East Midlands of England, near Tevershall. This area is known for its coal mining industry. Constance is also highborn, and has been educated in Germany, where she learned to discuss matters philosophically. We are told that she married Clifford in 1917 because she found talking with him intellectually stimulating. However, after their marriage, he is sent back to the war, where is ends up paralyzed from the waist down. He recovers for two years in a hospital, after which he and his wife travel to the Wragby Estate.
Lady Chatterley's sexual history is given to us. She has not thought much about the sexual act ever before. She is much more interested in men for their intellectual conversations, although she has had sex prior to her marriage. As Constance lives for a longer time at Wragby, she becomes restless. Clifford is a writer and is interested in success and fame. He invites many other intellectuals over to their home. He is not capable of having sex, but he does hint to her that he would like a child, so long as he does not know who the real father is. One of these guests is another writer named Michaelis. Michaelis and Constance Chatterley begin having an affair. Constance learns to hold Michaelis inside of her after he climaxes, and to climax herself after he has finished. Michaelis though, she finds, is also after success. He is an outsider, however, and was not born into the aristocracy like Clifford. Constance still finds that she feels empty with Michaelis.
Constance begins to take walks in the wood on the Wragby Estate. She finds a hut where the gamekeeper, Oliver Mellors, breeds pheasants. She asks the gamekeeper for a key, and he is initially reluctant. One day, she accidentally sees the gamekeeper half-naked. This excites her. She goes back home and examines her own naked body.
Constance's sister comes to visit her and notices that she does not look well. Her sister, Hilda, insists that Clifford obtain a nurse so that Constance is not as burdened with helping him get around the house. Clifford reluctantly agrees, and they hire a woman named Mrs. Bolton. Mrs. Bolton ends up inadvertently supplying Clifford with plenty of material for his writing, because she likes to gossip about the townspeople. Mrs. Bolton is aware of Clifford's aristocratic status and does everything he wants her to do.
Constance continues her walks. One day while she is at the hut in the wood, she is watching the hens with the keeper (i.e., the gamekeeper). He sees a tear fall from her eye and he brings her into the hut and seduces her. This re-energizes Constance; she begins to feel much more connected to the trees and flowers of the wood. Initially, Constance also avoids going back to the hut, trying to distract herself. However, she bumps into the keeper again, and he takes her into the wood and seduces her. She has an entirely new experience: climaxing at the same time that the man does.
Mrs. Bolton, meanwhile, begins to suspect that Constance has a lover. Constance begins to realize that she hates Clifford, and she starts to think of the whole world as insane. She criticizes the way the world works: she thinks it is all devoted to some mechanistic functioning that has no real purpose other than the attainment of more money and industry. Constance continues to return to the wood and the hut to have sex with Mellors. It is a learning experience because sometimes she is too distracted with herself to enjoy it. She has to learn to put away her individuality to engage in this animal act.
One day, Constance and Clifford are going for a walk in the wood when Clifford's wheelchair malfunctions. Clifford makes Mellors push him up a hill, and Constance is furious. Meanwhile Constance decides to go to Italy with her sister and father, where she will pretend to have taken a lover. She knows that Clifford would be upset if her lover were from a lower class, as the keeper is. Constance gets pregnant by Mellors before she leaves for Italy.
Constance spends several weeks in Italy. At Wragby Estate, Mellors' wife returns because Mellors has asked for a divorce. She starts accusing Mellors of infidelity. Clifford ends up letting Mellors go, because he does not want this scandalous wife to be spreading more malicious rumors. Mellors moves to London. Constance meets up with him in London on her return from Italy. There, she writes to Clifford that she is pregnant and would like a divorce.
Clifford demands that Constance return at least once to Wragby Hall. She tells him the father is a man named Duncan, but he does not believe she is really in love with Duncan. Constance finally admits that she had an affair with the gamekeeper. Clifford is incredibly offended and refuses to divorce her. Constance points out that her child will inherit Wragby Hall. This does not bother Clifford. Constance leaves without divorcing Clifford. Mellors, meanwhile, is entangled in his own divorce, and cannot be immediately with Constance. Instead, he goes and works on a farm. The novel ends with them still apart, but anticipating being together in the near future.