Pippi lives in a small Swedish village, sharing the house she styles "Villa Villekulla" with her monkey named Mr. Nilsson, and her horse (nameless in the books; the horse has names in adaptations, most notably "Lilla Gubben", Swedish for "little old man" – other names include Horatio, Alfonso, and Horse) but no adults or relatives. She befriends the two children living next door: Tommy and Annika Settergren. The three have many adventures. Tommy and Annika's mother, Mrs. Settergren, often disapproves of Pippi's manners and lack of education, but Mrs. Settergren eventually comes to appreciate that Pippi would never put Tommy and Annika in danger, and that Pippi values her friendship with the pair above almost anything else in her life. Pippi's two main possessions are a suitcase full of gold coins (which she used to buy her horse) and a large chest of drawers containing various small treasures.
Pippi is portrayed as being a friendly and kind girl, but one with no "proper" manners and having no training or experience in how to behave in normal society, that is, any society other than the very freewheeling and non-regimented one aboard her father's ship. Due to leading a life at sea, Pippi has received very limited conventional education. This is balanced by the fact that she seems to have a wide range of competency in housekeeping skills; she demonstrates that she can cook for herself, clean and repair her house, care for her pets, and otherwise manage her affairs despite her illiteracy and lack of mathematical knowledge. Her behavior is highly exasperating to many adults, but she enjoys sharing recollections of her memories of sailing across the world. Pippi tends to tell many "tall tales" about her travels but appears to do so for the purpose of entertainment and will admit to her untruths when questioned. Otherwise she seems trustworthy and loyal to her friends.
Pippi is the daughter of a South Seas seafarer Ephraim Longstocking, captain of the sailing ship Hoptoad (Hoppetossa in Swedish), from whom Pippi inherited her common sense and incredible strength. Captain Longstocking is the only person known to match Pippi in physical ability. He originally bought Villa Villekulla to give his daughter a more stable home life than that on board the ship, although Pippi loves the seafaring life and is a better sailor and helmsman than most of her father's crew.
Pippi retired to the Villa Villekulla after her father was believed lost at sea, but Pippi was determined in her belief that her father was still alive, had rescued himself to an island, had been made a king of the natives, and was strolling around all day with a crown on his head. She believed her father would one day come to look for her at Villa Villekulla.
As it turned out, Captain Longstocking had been washed ashore upon a South Sea island known as Kurrekurredutt Isle, where he was made the "fat white chief" by its native people. The Captain returned to Sweden to bring Pippi to his new home in the South Seas, but Pippi found herself attached to the Villa and her new friends Tommy and Annika, and decided to stay where she was, though the children sometimes took trips with her father aboard the Hoptoad, including a trip to Kurrekurredutt, where she was confirmed as the "fat white chief's" daughter, Princess Pippilotta. In the Swedish original, Pippi is described as "negerprinsessa" and her father as "negerkung", meaning "negro princess" and "negro king" respectively.