"The Bet" begins with a banker and a lawyer arguing about whether the death penalty is a more humane punishment than life imprisonment. The banker argues that the death penalty is a more humane, more merciful death because the prisoner is killed immediately, whereas a punishment of life imprisonment essentially represents a slow, dragged-out death. The banker makes his point by asking,
Which executioner is the more humane, he who kills you in a few minutes or he who drags the life out of you in the course of many years?
The lawyer, on the other hand, argues that life is inherently precious and that any kind of life, even the kind spent in prison, is better than no life at all. The banker is taken aback by the lawyer's argument and proposes a bet. The banker proposes that the lawyer would not be able to endure five years of voluntary imprisonment. He is so sure of this that the banker says he will pay the lawyer two million rubles if the lawyer can prove him wrong. The lawyer says that he'll take the bet, "but [he] would stay not five but fifteen years." This seems like rather a foolish thing to volunteer, but the lawyer does it because he is so sure of his view that life is too precious simply to throw away. The fact that he voluntarily offers to increase the time period by ten years is, from his perspective, a testament to how precious life really is. Five years is not long enough to prove how precious life is but fifteen years, perhaps, is.