This story takes place in Mirgorod (Myrhorod in Ukrainian), written in the style featuring grotesque, realistic portrayals of the characters. The two Ivans are great friends, each one almost being the opposite image of the other. Ivan Ivanovich is tall, thin, and well-spoken, for example, while Ivan Nikiforovich is short, fat, and cuts to the point with a biting honesty.
The story opens with discussions about how they live next to each other in perfect harmony and are known throughout the village as the best of friends. One day, Ivan Ivanovich notices his friend's servant hanging some clothes out to dry as well as some military implements, especially a Turkish rifle that interests him. He goes over to Nikiforovich’s house in hopes of acquiring the rifle, finding there no use for him to own it, and enters the house to find his friend lying naked on the floor, relaxing because it’s too hot outside. He inquires about the rifle and offers to trade it for a brown sow and two sacks of oats, but his friend is unwilling to part with it and calls Ivan Ivanovich a goose, which terribly offends him. After this, they begin to hate each other.
Nikiforovich erects a goose pen with two posts resting on Ivanovich’s property. To retaliate, Ivan Ivanovich saws the legs off in the night and then reasons that his old friend is going to burn his house down, so has his servant keep a watch out for any strange placements of straw around his home. Eventually, Ivan Ivanovich goes to the courts with a petition to have Ivan Nikiforovich arrested for his slander. The court cannot believe what is occurring and tries to convince him to make amends, but he disregards their suggestions and leaves the courthouse.
Shortly after this, Ivan Nikiforovich comes into the court with his own petition, to the amazement of those gathered there. Strangely enough, shortly after Ivan Nikiforovich leaves, the petition is stolen by a brown sow. Because of this, the chief of police is required to go to Ivan Ivanovich’s house since it is illegal to tamper with court documents and it was his pig. They have an argument over the pig and the police chief attempts to convince him to reconcile with his friend, but he still refuses. Because of the sow a new petition is filed, which is quickly duplicated and filed within a day, but sits in storage for a few years, never being completed.
Eventually, the chief of police has a party that Ivan Ivanovich is attending, but his old friend does not, because neither will go anywhere where the other is present. The party gets Anton Prokofievich to go to Ivan Nikiforovich’s house to convince him to come, unknown to the other Ivan. When he convinces him, he sits down to dinner and both Ivans notice each other sitting across the table and the party grows silent. However, they continue eating with nothing occurring. At the end of dinner both try to leave without the other noticing, and some of the party members push them towards each other so they make up. They begin to, but Nikiforovich mentions the word "goose" again, and Ivanovich storms out of the house.
The narrator returns to Mirgorod after some time and sees the two Ivans again, completely worn out and different than he remembers them. Each is convinced that their case will be concluded in his favour the following day, and the narrator shakes his head in pity and leaves, stating: "It is a depressing world, gentlemen!"