Lipiner was born in Jarosław. A prodigious talent, he produced a well-regarded treatment of 'Prometheus Unbound' at the age of seventeen, He attended the University of Leipzig as a student of philosophy, literature and natural science; one of his teachers was Gustav Fechner. By his early twenties, he had produced an important work on the philosophy of Arthur Schopenhauer, and become a personal acquaintance of Nietzsche — who had called him 'a veritable genius'.
Lipiner was 24 when he met the 20-year-old Mahler, and his views on various subjects (including the 'redemptive' qualities of artistic creation) came to influence the young composer to a considerable extent. Lipiner features in the 'Recollections of Gustav Mahler' assembled by Natalie Bauer-Lechner — who seems also to have kept a similar record of his actions and conversations, though this is now lost.
As his creativity waned, Lipiner's reputation seems to have depended more and more upon his personal fascination as a 'bon viveur' and skilled improviser of the philosophical rhapsodies with which he would entertain his circle of illustrious acquaintances in Vienna. Mahler's marriage to Alma Schindler in 1902 was followed by the composer's breaking with Lipiner for several years: the man whom Friedrich Eckstein described as 'that shy, melancholy, sensitive poet' and whom Mahler usually addressed as 'dearest Siegfried' was for Alma the object of a venomous dislike: "a bogus Goethe in his writing and a haggling Jew in his talk". By the end of Mahler's life, however, the two men had resumed their friendship. Lipiner died in Vienna a few months after Mahler's death.