At the beginning of the story the banker recalls a party that took place some fifteen years previously. He recalls that at that party he and the other guests were having a heated discussion about capital punishment. The banker had argued that capital punishment was a "more moral and more humane" form of punishment than life imprisonment. He had reasoned that capital punishment, or the death penalty, was kinder to the criminal because it killed them instantly, as opposed to life imprisonment which would prolong the criminal's misery. In this way, he had argued, life imprisonment was like a form of torture. When he had made these arguments, the banker was being entirely rational.
The banker recalls how at the same party, one particular guest, a young lawyer, had passionately disagreed with him. The young lawyer had argued that life was precious and therefore that even a life spent in prison was to be valued over no life at all. As the lawyer himself put it, "It's better to live somehow than not to live at all." Faced with this argument, the banker became upset, feeling that his authority and his pride were being challenged. He recalls how his reason began to give way to his passion. He "lost his temper, banged his fist on the table," and said to the lawyer, "It's a lie. I bet you two millions you wouldn't stick in a cell even for five years."
In hindsight, this bet proved to be rash and irrational. The banker lost his temper, and in the internal battle between his reason and his passion, the latter won out. He made the bet as an impetuous, desperate effort to save face, and he almost lost everything he had as a result. However, the bet perhaps turned out to be a valuable lesson for the banker. From this lesson he has perhaps learned that excessive pride is dangerous, and that there is more to life than money, and greed for more money. These were the lessons that the young lawyer, during the course of the bet, offered to the banker.