As the novel opens, the young Dorian meets the corrupt Lord Henry. Lord Henry places in Dorian's mind a great deal of regret at how quickly his perfect beauty will fade. Filled with dissatisfaction over the prospect of losing his looks and youth, Dorian vehemently wishes he could stay young while his newly painted portrait ages instead. This wish becomes a deal with the devil: the painting does age instead of him.
At first, Dorian exults in the fact that he will stay young and unspoiled no matter what he does. He behaves cruelly to the woman who loves him and for years enjoys access to every kind of pleasure—especially sexual pleasure—that his unchanging good looks afford him. He can get away with vice because he looks so pure and innocent.
As time goes on, however, beauty and youth, once the be-all and end-all in his life, become increasingly empty to Dorian. He starts to regret his wish. He has lived too shallowly, too obsessed with the surface beauty of things and superficial pleasures, at the expense of his soul. All of this begins to disgust him. The signs of age and corruption on his portrait also disgust him as symbols of his moral degradation. He finally repents of his obsession with beauty and youth, stabbing the portrait and, in so doing, killing himself.