In chapter 2 of the novel, the eponymous Oliver finds himself in a workhouse along with lots of other orphaned children. The children are given hardly any food and, as a result, are malnourished. After three months of "slow starvation," the children get together and decide that one of them should ask the master of the workhouse for more food. The children draw lots, and it is decided that Oliver should be the one to ask.
Oliver is described as "desperate with hunger" the night that he asks for more gruel. He approaches the master of the workhouse with his bowl and his spoon in his hands and he says, "Please, sir, I want some more." The master is astonished that one of the children would dare to ask for more food and he strikes Oliver across the head "with the ladle."
Oliver Twist was first published in 1838. At this time, England was undergoing an Industrial Revolution, and one consequence of this revolution was lower pay and worse living conditions for the working classes. Charles Dickens himself experienced extreme poverty in his own childhood and, when he was just twelve years old, was put into a debtor's prison with his father, mother, and siblings. Dickens wrote Oliver Twist in part to protest the appalling conditions endured by the impoverished and by the working classes. When Oliver asks for more gruel, he speaks on behalf of the poor and working classes in England, who needed and deserved more from their country.