As Prince Myshkin walks up the staircase to enter Nastassya Filippovna's apartment, he thinks about why he is going to the party despite the lack of invitation. The only reason he can think of is that he wishes to tell her not to marry Ganya, who clearly wants to marry her only for the money. The maid who meets Myshkin at the apartment is not surprised at the prince's dirty shoes or his rather strange clothes.

Nastassya Filippovna's apartment is small but very well furnished. When she first began living in St. Petersburg, Totsky attempted to seduce her with luxury and therefore spent a lot of money on her. However, though she enjoyed the luxury, she never became dependent upon having it. Indeed, she often made an effort to demonstrate this fact that she could not be controlled by luxury. Totsky did not appreciate this quality in Nastassya Filippovna, nor did he enjoy the company she frequently gathered around her. Despite all that Totsky did not like about her, however, he could not stop being fascinated by her originality and strength.

This evening, before the prince's arrival, a company has already gathered in Nastassya Filippovna's drawing room. The people include Totsky, General Yepanchin, Ganya, Ptitsyn, Ferdyshchenko, an old schoolteacher, a young man, a woman of forty who is an actress, and a young woman who is extraordinarily beautiful. Throughout the evening, the latter four say very little and the only man in good spirits is Ferdyshchenko.

When Myshkin arrives, Nastassya Filippovna goes to greet him. She apologizes for not inviting him to her party that morning and applauds his initiative in coming. As she leads him into the drawing room, he nervously tells her that she is utter perfection. She says that this is untrue, and that her actions at the party will prove that she far from perfect. The company becomes animated. Many people hint that the prince's reason for coming must be that he likes Nastassya Filippovna.

Suddenly Ferdyshchenko suggests a game where everyone must tell the group of the worst thing they have ever done. Although practically none of the guests like the idea, they agree to play to please Nastassya Filippovna, who seems to like it very much. The women are excluded, while the men must draw lots to determine who goes first. The drawn order is Ferdyshchenko, followed by Ptitsyn, the general, and then Totsky. Nastassya Filippovna grows increasingly feverish and agitated.

Ferdyshchenko says the worst thing he has ever done was to steal three rubles at a dinner party and then allow the hosts to suspect the maid, who was later fired as a result. Everyone is disgusted with Ferdyshchenko, not only for stealing but also for allowing the maid to be implicated. When Ferdyshchenko's turn is over, Ptitsyn refuses to play the game, so it becomes General Yepanchin's turn.