The narrator explores the common criticism that education is useless to a writer. He disagrees with this idea, saying that education within and beyond one’s own field is greatly beneficial. The narrator asserts that worldly knowledge is vital to the writer, and that this knowledge is gained from conversing with people from all facets of society. Though the great writers might be useless in writing a book about dance, they should prepare themselves to write about people. He advocates exploring the lower orders for their humor and entertainment value, as opposed to confining oneself to the higher classes. The narrator also explores the criticism that the current age is one typified by vice and debauchery, asserting instead that society is more frivolous than depraved.
Lady Bellaston sends two letters to Tom: the first warns him not to make her displeased by seeing Sophia behind her back, and the second asks him to come to her. While he debates how to respond, she arrives, looking quite disheveled, and Tom promises he has not betrayed her. Partridge suddenly bursts in to tell Tom that Sophia has been located and that Mrs. Honour is outside. To avoid detection, Lady Bellaston conceals herself behind a curtain. Honour enters to tell Tom of Lady Bellaston’s unsavory reputation with men, without realizing she is in the room. She also gives Tom a letter from Sophia, and then leaves. Lady Bellaston is furious at Honour's accusations, and she demands that Tom give up his appeal to Sophia. She is calmed when Tom tells her that they had only met by accident the previous evening. Lady Bellaston contrives that Tom is to visit her at her house, under the pretense of seeing Sophia.
Tom writes to Sophia, and postpones his meeting with Lady Bellaston. Mrs. Miller tells Tom she is uncomfortable with his many late meetings with women at her house. Though she feels beholden to his kindness, she is concerned about the reputation of her house and her daughters, and so asks him to take alternate lodging. He agrees. She is doubly upset to ask this favor, since Partridge has told her about his connection to Mr. Allworthy, to whom she is also beholden.
Tom tells Nightingale that he will have to leave Mrs. Miller's home. Nightingale also resolves to leave. Tom observes that Nancy is greatly distressed by Nightingale's resolve, and deduces that they are in a relationship. When he pushes Nightingale to act honorably, Nightingale confesses his affection but admits that he is unable to pursue her since his father has already arranged a match for him with another woman. The narrator speculates on Nightingale’s “somewhat looser morals” with regard to women (669).
Tom is invited to tea with Mrs. Miller. She explains how Allworthy provided for her and her daughters after the death of her husband, giving her a house and an annuity. Tom explains that he and Allworthy are estranged, but she tells Tom that Allworthy has always spoken of him in the highest terms. Though he expects her, Lady Bellaston does not visit Tom that night.
Tom is woken one night by a commotion downstairs. He learns that Nancy is pregnant, and because of Nightingale's situation, she has attempted suicide. Tom promises Mrs. Miller that he will try to convince Nightingale to act honorably.
Tom tells Nightingale that Nancy is more upset about losing him than about her reputation, and that the man should act honorably. He responds with concern over his family name, and the shame that would ensue if he committed to such a match. However, he admits that his own sentiments matter less than those of his father. He would happily marry her if his father permitted it, and so Tom promises to try and convince the elder Nightingale.
The Elder Mr. Nightingale, who is shrewd and suspicious with money, discusses his son's situation with Tom at the former's home. They are joined by the elder Nightingale’s brother, who is aware that the planned match will be unhappy for the young Nightingale. He argues that his brother should let his son choose a happy match, and Tom seconds the argument. The Elder Mr. Nightingale is agitated by them.
Nightingale's uncle visits the Miller household, and they have a dinner party. They all pretend as though the marriage has already taken place, which leads the uncle to support it. However, Nightingale gets drunk and confesses the truth to his uncle, who is shocked and demands the boy not act against his father's wishes. Nightingale argues that his uncle had always promised to let his own daughter choose her husband, and the uncle agrees they can discuss the issue further at his home. The uncle intends to stop this match, but does not admit that.
The supper party resumes. Mrs. Honour arrives and tells Jones that she has dreadful news about Sophia.
The narrator discusses how a character's social standing relates to his or her creative value. He says that high born characters generally provide the least value to the writer - “the highest life is much the dullest, and affords little humour or entertainment” (657). He finds those of lower classes more valuable for comedy. It is keeping with his professed intention, to display human nature in all its manifestations, to espouse this opinion.
He further defends the characteristic of the age, which has been roundly criticized, as being based on recklessness as opposed to sin – "the true Characteristick of the present Beau Monde, is rather folly than vice, and the only epithet which it deserves is that of frivolous” (658). This view was at odds with many of Fielding’s critics, such as Dr. Johnson. Initially, Tom Jones was seen as imprudently highlighting the wickedness and immorality of the sixteenth century, rather than focusing on the moralistic and virtuous aspects emphasized in more worthy texts such as Samuel Richardson’s Pamela. It is noteworthy that the redemptive lesson offered by Tom Jones offers more of truth and social education than Richardson's work, precisely because it embraced a larger swatch of human nature. Fielding is certainly cynical about our potential for base behavior, but he reveals here a joyful edge to it - we tend to be foolish, rather than evil, and hence should be mocked instead of chided.
Mrs. Miller is revealed to be a supremely respectable, honorable and moral character. She is unwavering of her belief that Allworthy loves his ward: “ I do assure you, had you been twenty times his son, he could not have expressed more regard for you” (672). She is firmly convinced of Tom’s goodness, and passionately argues his case to Allworthy later in the text. Her astute understanding of character is coupled with a moral bravery. It is unfortunate that she has to ask Tom - who has been so kind - to leave her house, but she is aware of how reputation works in the world, and has to look out for herself.
This idea of reputation torments the characters in other ways. Nightingale highlights the hypocrisy of the higher classes when he considers his duty to the pregnant Nancy Miller. He says, “was I to marry a whore, though my own, I should be ashamed of ever showing my face again” (680). His attitude towards her may reflect on the criticism Fielding received upon his second marriage to Mary Daniel in 1747. Formerly his housekeeper, she was pregnant with his child. Happiness and love matter little, and the character of the wife is irrelevant. All that matters is reputation.
The final chapter ends with a cliffhanger, as Mrs. Honour brings alarming news of her mistress Sophia. Amusingly, the cliffhanger is deflated by the intervention of the narrator, who informs the reader that the revelation will come only after “many preceding steps” that need to be revealed first (693).