Peter Ivanovich, Ivan's closest friend and colleague, is only present in the first chapter of the novel. Yet because the narrator spends so much time describing his thoughts and actions, Peter and his view of Ivan's life and society play an important role in setting up the context and values of the story. Peter functions as a representative of Ivan's social milieu. His relationships with people are shallow and self-serving. Even though he has known Ivan for his entire life, Peter experiences no significant remorse on the occasion of Ivan's death. His thoughts, rather, center on possible career moves and transfers opened up by Ivan's vacant position. Peter, like the other members of the society he represents, sees human relationships as instrumental to the achievement of his ends. Compassionate and loving relationships do not exist, and Peter's attitude toward Ivan's death highlights this feature of society. In addition to his self-enclosed and self-interested qualities, Peter is characterized by a strong desire to avoid the unpleasant. He skirts around the topic of Ivan's death, grudgingly attends the funeral, and is generally unwilling to confront the prospect of his own mortality.

But if Peter is a representative of Ivan's social milieu, he turns out to be no typical representative. Peter exhibits a sensitivity and an openness not found in the other members of his society. He is the first of Ivan's friends to recognize that Ivan is dying. Several times in the first chapter Peter seems on the verge of comprehending the significance of Ivan's death, of stepping outside the socially accepted perspective and confronting mortality and the meaning of life. Peter is receptive to the warning conveyed by the expression on the face of Ivan's corpse. He sees the fulfillment and "fitness" of Ivan's expression, reflections of Ivan's discovery of the right way to live. While talking to Praskovya about Ivan's final days, Peter is strongly affected by the thought of Ivan's suffering. After the funeral, while leaving the house, Peter evokes the observation from Gerasim that it is God's will that everybody dies some day. Although Peter never makes the jump to a true understanding of the nature of life, his receptivity and consciousness differentiate him from the other members of society. Peter's last name, Ivanovich, means the 'son of Ivan,' and seems to hint that like Ivan, Peter too will one day see the light.