When the book opens, the four March sisters, Meg, Jo, Amy, and Beth, live in rural New England during the Civil War. The name of the town is Plumfield, but the setting is likely Concord, Massachusetts, the historic town in which Louisa May Alcott, the author, lived when she was growing up. The March girls' father is working as a chaplain in the war, and the year is likely 1862 or 1863 (when the war's outcome is still in doubt). The book opens at Christmas, when the girls mourn the loss of their family's wealth, but they wind up giving their presents to the poor.
Later, Amy visits Europe with her wealthy aunt, and Laurie, their neighbor, also goes to Europe with his grandfather. Jo leaves New England to live for a while as a nanny in New York City, where she also tries to be a writer. At the end of the book, Jo returns to her family's house in New England.