The White Tiger is at once a classic rags to riches story, a murder story, and a brutal critique of the inequalities in Indian society. It is told through the form of an ongoing letter to the Chinese Premier, who is to visit India to learn lessons about 'entrepreneurship', from Balram Halwai.

Balram, the 'white tiger' is born in the Darkness, the name given to poor, rural India. He works in a tea-shop, but has ambitions to raise himself out of poverty, and manages to get a job working as a chauffeur for a wealthy, corrupt businessman. He follows him to Delhi, where he lives in cramped and dirty servants quarters in the basement of his master's luxury apartment block. When his master's wife runs over and kills a street child, he is almost forced into a confession in order to save her.

Incensed by this, and the stark inequalities he lives with, and the precariousness of his own position, he plots a way out of this world where an innocent man can jailed for a crime he did not commit to save his master's skin. He murders him, and escapes to Bangalore with his money, where he is able to start a new life as the owner of a taxi company, employing many others. He has come out of the Darkness, and into the light.