The main events take place at the guest house of "mother" Vauquer. At the end of November 1819 there are found seven permanent "freeloaders": on the second floor - a young lady Viktorina Taillefer with a distant relative of Madame Couture; on the third - a retired official of Poiret and mysterious middle-aged gentleman by the name of Vautrin; on the fourth - an old maid Mademoiselle Michon, a former breadseller Goriot and Eugene de Rastignac, who came to Paris from Angouleme. All tenants together despise dad Goriot, which formerly was called "Mr.": settling at Madame Vauquer in 1813, he took the best room on the second floor - then he obviously had some money, and the hostess had hopes to end her widow's existence. She even went into some of the costs for a common table, but he did not appreciate her efforts. Frustrated mother Vauquer became obliquely glancing at him, and he fully justified the bad expectations, two years later moved to the third floor and has ceased to heat in the winter. The reason for this decline was guessed very soon by watchful servants and tenants: to Goriot rarely came secretly lovely young ladies - obviously, the old lecher wasted his money on mistresses. However, he tried to pass them off as his daughters - foolish lie that all just amused. By the end of the third year Goriot moved to the fourth floor and began to walk in rags.
Meanwhile, the measured life Vauquer home is beginning to change. Young Rastignac, intoxicated by brilliance of Paris, decides to enter into high society. Of all the rich relatives Eugene could count only on the Viscountess de Bosean. Send her a letter of recommendation of his old aunt, he receives an invitation to the ball. The young man longs to get close to some noble lady, and a brilliant Countess de Resto Anastasi attracts his attention. The next day he told his companions about it over breakfast, and learns amazing things: it turns out, the old man Goriot is familiar with the Countess and, according to Vautrin, recently paid her overdue bills to Gobsek – the moneylender. From this day Vautrin begins to follow all the activities of the young man.
The first attempt to engage secular acquaintance turns with humiliation: he came to the countess on feet, calling contemptuous smirk of servants, failed to immediately find the living room, and the hostess clearly gave him to understand that she wants to be alone with the Count Maxime de Tri. Enraged Rastignac is imbued with a wild hatred for the arrogant handsome and vows to prevail over him. To make matters worse, Eugene makes mistake by mentioning the name of Pere Goriot, whom happened to see in the courtyard of the ducal house. Dejected young man goes on a visit to the Viscountess de Bosean, but chooses to do most inopportune moment: his cousin is waiting for a heavy blow - the Marquis d'Ajuda-Pinto, she is passionate in love with, is going to leave her for a profitable marriage. Duchesse de Langeais is pleased to announce the news of her "best friend." Viscountess quickly changes the subject, and tormented Rastignac’s riddle is immediately solved: Anastasi de Resto in her girlhood wore a name of Goriot. This miserable man has one more daughter, Delphine - the wife of the banker de Nucingen. Both beauty actually renounced from the old father, who has given them everything. Viscountess advises Rastignac to use the rivalry of two sisters: unlike Baroness Anastasi Countess Delphine is not taken in high society - for the invitation to the house of Viscountess de Bosean this woman would have to lick the dirt in the streets nearby.
Back at the guest house, Rastignac announces that from now on he takes dad Goriot under his protection. He wrote a letter to family, begging to send one thousand two hundred francs - almost unbearable burden for the family, but the young and ambitious man needs to acquire a fashionable wardrobe. Vautrin, unravelling Rastignac’s plans, offers the young man to pay attention to Viktorina Taillefer. She languishes in a pension, because her father a wealthy banker does not want to know her. She has a brother: enough to remove him from the scene, the situation changed - Viktorina will become the sole heir. Removing young Taillefer Vautrin takes for himself, and Rastignac would have to pay him two hundred thousand - a mere trifle compared with a million dowry. The young man is forced to admit that this terrible man rudely said the same thing, as the Viscountess de Bosean had said. Instinctively sensing the danger of deal with Vautrin, he decides to get the favor of the Dolphins de Nucingen. Goriot father helps him in every possible way, who hates both sons-in-law and blames them of misfortunes of his daughters. Eugene meets Dolphine and falls in love with her. She answers him in return, for he had made her a valuable service, winning seven thousand francs: the wife of the banker cannot pay her debt - husband, pocketing a dowry of seven hundred thousand, left her nearly penniless.
Rastignac starts to lead a life of a secular dandy, but he still has no money, and the tempter-Vautrin constantly reminds him of the future millions of Victorina. However, over Vautrin dark clouds are thickening: police suspect that under this name hides an escaped convict Jacques Collin, nicknamed Death-Lie - to expose him they need assistance of any of the "freeloaders" in Vauquer pension. For the wages roles of detectives agree to fulfill Poiret and Michon, they have to figure out if Vautrin has the stigma on his shoulder.
The day before the fatal denouement Vautrin says Rastignac that his friend Colonel Frankessini called Taillefer-son for a duel. At the same time the young man learns that the father Goriot did not waste time: he rented for Eugene and Dolphine a lovely apartment and instructed the lawyer Derville put an end to the excesses of Nucingen - daughter will now have thirty-six thousand francs a year. This news puts an end to fluctuations of Rastignac - he wants to warn the father and son Taillefer, but prudent Vautrin gives him wine with a dash of sleeping pills. The next morning the same trick is done with himself: Michon mixes in coffee a drug that causes a rush of blood to the head, - unconscious Vautrin is stripped, and the stamp stands on the shoulder.
Further events take place rapidly, and mother Vauquer suddenly loses all her guests. First come for Victorine Taillefer, father calls her to him, because her brother was mortally wounded in a duel. Then break the gendarmes: they are given the order to kill Vautrin at the slightest attempt to resist, but he shows the greatest composure and calmly surrenders police. Permeated with a grudging admiration for this "genius of hard labor", diners at the guest house expelled voluntary spies - Michon and Poiret. A father Goriot shows Rastignac a new apartment, begging one thing - let him live upstairs, next to his beloved Dolphine. But the old man's dreams are crumbling. Pressed to the wall Derville, Baron de Nucingen confesses that his wife's dowry was invested in financial fraud. Goriot is in horror: his daughter was at the mercy of dishonest banker. However, the situation is even worse with Anastasi: saving Maxim de Tri from debtors' prison, she lays Gobsek the family diamonds, and Comte de Resto finds out about it. She needed twelve thousand, and her father spent the last money for an apartment for Rastignac. The sisters begin to shower each other with insults, and in the midst of their quarrel the old falls down - he had a stroke.
Pere Goriot dies on the day when the Viscountess de Bosean gives her last ball - cannot survive separation from the Marquis d'Ajuda, she leaves the society. Saying goodbye to this amazing woman Rastignac hurried to the old man who summons vainly daughters. Miserable father is buried on the last pennies of poor students - Rastignac and Bianchon. Two empty carriages with coats of arms escorted the coffin to the cemetery Pere Lachaise. From the top of a hill Rastignac is looking at Paris and swears to succeed at all costs - and to start he goes for a dinner to Dolphine de Nucingen.