Lady Chatterley's Lover begins by introducing Connie Reid, the female protagonist of the novel. She was raised as a cultured bohemian of the upper-middle class, and was introduced to love affairs--intellectual and sexual liaisons--as a teenager. In 1917, at 23, she marries Clifford Chatterley, the scion of an aristocratic line. After a month's honeymoon, he is sent to war, and returns paralyzed from the waist down, impotent.
After the war, Clifford becomes a successful writer, and many intellectuals flock to the Chatterley mansion, Wragby. Connie feels isolated; the vaunted intellectuals prove empty and bloodless, and she resorts to a brief and dissatisfying affair with a visiting playwright, Michaelis. Connie longs for real human contact, and falls into despair, as all men seem scared of true feelings and true passion. There is a growing distance between Connie and Clifford, who has retreated into the meaningless pursuit of success in his writing and in his obsession with coal-mining, and towards whom Connie feels a deep physical aversion. A nurse, Mrs. Bolton, is hired to take care of the handicapped Clifford so that Connie can be more independent, and Clifford falls into a deep dependence on the nurse, his manhood fading into an infantile reliance.
Into the void of Connie's life comes Oliver Mellors, the gamekeeper on Clifford's estate, newly returned from serving in the army. Mellors is aloof and derisive, and yet Connie feels curiously drawn to him by his innate nobility and grace, his purposeful isolation, his undercurrents of natural sensuality. After several chance meetings in which Mellors keeps her at arm's length, reminding her of the class distance between them, they meet by chance at a hut in the forest, where they have sex. This happens on several occasions, but still Connie feels a distance between them, remaining profoundly separate from him despite their physical closeness.
One day, Connie and Mellors meet by coincidence in the woods, and they have sex on the forest floor. This time, they experience simultaneous orgasms. This is a revelatory and profoundly moving experience for Connie; she begins to adore Mellors, feeling that they have connected on some deep sensual level. She is proud to believe that she is pregnant with Mellors' child: he is a real, "living" man, as opposed to the emotionally-dead intellectuals and the dehumanized industrial workers. They grow progressively closer, connecting on a primordial physical level, as woman and man rather than as two minds or intellects.
Connie goes away to Venice for a vacation. While she is gone, Mellors' old wife returns, causing a scandal. Connie returns to find that Mellors has been fired as a result of the negative rumors spread about him by his resentful wife, against whom he has initiated divorce proceedings. Connie admits to Clifford that she is pregnant with Mellors' baby, but Clifford refuses to give her a divorce. The novel ends with Mellors working on a farm, waiting for his divorce, and Connie living with her sister, also waiting: the hope exists that, in the end, they will be together.