'Bartleby' is narrated by an unnamed lawyer- no "Call me Ishmael." here. The lawyer has a law office on Wall Street, where he practices civil law, handling bonds, mortgages, and title deeds. He has no desire to practice criminal law because, as he says himself, he prefers a quiet, non-confrontational existence: "I am a man who, from his youth upwards, has been filled with a profound conviction that the easiest way of life is best." This attitude of non-confrontation is demonstrated in his dealings with his two scriveners, Turkey and Nippers (both office nicknames). Scriveners were clerks or copyists who, before the advent of the typewriter, had to write out all the legal documents, as well as at least one copy of them. The lawyer is not blessed with particularly good ones; Turkey- so called because of his red, florid face- is obviously a drunkard, though our narrator doesn't come right out and say this. Turkey works well and proficiently in the mornings, but drinks his lunch, and consequently his afternoon work is careless and error-ridden. Instead of dealing head-on with this, issuing an ultimatum about Turkey's work habits, our narrator merely makes sure that he doesn't give him any important documents to work on in the afternoons. Nippers, on the other hand, seems overly ambitious, frustrated with his lowly position, and impatient with the copy work. He tends to be restless and unable to concentrate on the tasks at hand in the mornings, though usually by the afternoon, he has settled down enough to get his work done. Again, the lawyer does nothing to address this, resigning himself to the fact that he'll get good work from one of his scriveners in the morning, and good work from the other in the afternoon. His third employee is Ginger Nut (also a nickname), a twelve year old boy who is there to study law, run errands, and clean the office. His nickname is derived from a type of snack cake that the scriveners frequently send him out to buy for them.
When copies of legal documents are made, they must be read over and compared with the original in case of error. Needing a document right away, our narrator calls Bartleby from behind his screen to do a read over for him. Without leaving his desk, Bartleby replies politely, "I would prefer not to." The lawyer can only assume that Bartleby has misunderstood him, and repeats his call, the reply to which is once again, "I would prefer not to." Now angry, the lawyer strides behind the screen and demands that Bartleby read over the copy. Bartleby looks at him calmly and once again politely says that he would prefer not to. Stunned, the lawyer is unsure how to respond, but is in a hurry, so gets one of the other scriveners to do the read over.
The lawyer finds Bartleby sitting on a banister, and takes him into his former office to talk with him. He offers to find his erstwhile scrivener another job, suggesting quite an assortment of positions which he could recommend him for, but Bartleby turns them all down, saying they would not suit him. Bartleby says that he would prefer not to make a change, and wishes to remain stationary. Exasperated, the lawyer is on the point of abandoning Bartleby to his fate, but then has an idea: he offers to let Bartleby live at his own house until they can find a position which suits him. Bartleby, however, politely declines, saying that he would prefer not to make any change at all. Despairing, the lawyer leaves, telling himself that he has done everything humanly possible to help Bartleby.
"With kings and counselors," the lawyer replies quietly.