Young Nicholas Nickleby travels with his sister, Kate, and widowed mother to London after the death of his father in order to seek help from his wealthy but cruel uncle Ralph.
Thanks to his Uncle Ralph, Nicholas has secured a teaching position at Dotheboy's Hall, a boarding school run by the cruel and nasty Wackford Squeers.
In protest of the cruel methods of Wackford Squeers, Nicholas decides to leave Dotheboy's Hall and takes with him an orphan whom he'd earlier befriended named Smike.
Kate is invited to a dinner party in London by her uncle where she has to suffer through the unwanted attention of two lechers. Meanwhile, Nicholas and Smike arrive in London only to discover that they've been accused of theft by Squeers back at Dotheboys Hall.
Nicholas refuses to give up Smike to be returned to Squeers. They then leave London and join a troup of traveling actors.
Kate continues to be hounded by the lecherous Sir Mulberry Hawk. Meanwhile, Nicholas prepares to make his debut on stage.
Nicholas and Smike decide to return to London after Nicholas receives a letter from Newman Noggs about his uncle's treatment of Kate.
Squeers arrives in London and begins plotting with Ralph against Nicholas who confronts Sir Mulberry Hawk over Kate and later takes a job in a counting house.
Smike gets captured by Squeers but is later helped to escape. Meanwhile, Nicholas falls for a woman named Madeline Bray.
Smike falls ill after his escape from Squeers. Meanwhile, Ralph NIckleby gets involved in a plot to marry off Madeline Bray and steal an inheritance she doesn't know exists.
Nicholas interrupts the forced marriage of his beloved, Madeline Bray. Meanwhile, Sir Mulberry Hawk fights a duel.
Ralph employs Squeers one final time to steal a document relating to Madeline's inheritance. Smike falls seriously ill and passes away.
Kate falls in love and Ralph's schemes regarding Madeline's inheritance are foiled. Meanwhile, the truth about Smike's parentage is finally revealed.