Deleuze was born into a middle-class family in Paris and lived there for most of his life. His initial schooling was undertaken during World War II, during which time he attended the Lycée Carnot. He also spent a year in khâgne at the Lycée Henri IV. During the Nazi occupation of France, Deleuze's older brother, Georges, was arrested for his participation in the French Resistance, and died while in transit to a concentration camp. In 1944, Deleuze went to study at the Sorbonne. His teachers there included several noted specialists in the history of philosophy, such as Georges Canguilhem, Jean Hyppolite, Ferdinand Alquié, and Maurice de Gandillac, and Deleuze's lifelong interest in the canonical figures of modern philosophy owed much to these teachers. In addition, Deleuze found the work of academic thinkers such as Jean-Paul Sartre attractive. He agrégated in philosophy in 1948.
Deleuze taught at various lycées (Amiens, Orléans, Louis le Grand) until 1957, when he took up a position at the Sorbonne. In 1953, he published his first monograph, Empiricism and Subjectivity, on Hume. He married Denise Paul "Fanny" Grandjouan in 1956. From 1960 to 1964 he held a position at the Centre National de Recherche Scientifique. During this time he published the seminal Nietzsche and Philosophy (1962) and befriended Michel Foucault. From 1964 to 1969 he was a professor at the University of Lyon. In 1968 he published his two dissertations, Difference and Repetition (supervised by Gandillac) and Expressionism in Philosophy: Spinoza (supervised by Alquié).
In 1969 he was appointed to the University of Paris VIII at Vincennes/St. Denis, an experimental school organized to implement educational reform. This new university drew a number of talented scholars, including Foucault (who suggested Deleuze's hiring), and the psychoanalyst Félix Guattari. Deleuze taught at Vincennes until his retirement in 1987.
Deleuze, who had suffered from respiratory ailments from a young age, developed tuberculosis in 1968 and underwent a thoracoplasty (lung removal). He suffered increasingly severe respiratory symptoms for the rest of his life. In the last years of his life, simple tasks such as handwriting required laborious effort. In 1995, he committed suicide, throwing himself from the window of his apartment. Prior to his death, Deleuze had announced his intention to write a book entitled La Grandeur de Marx, and left behind two chapters of an unfinished project entitled Ensembles and Multiplicities (these chapters have been published as the essays "Immanence: A Life" and "The Actual and the Virtual"). He is buried in the cemetery of the village of Saint-Léonard-de-Noblat.
Deleuze himself found little to no interest in the composition of an autobiography. When once asked to talk about his life, he replied: "Academics' lives are seldom interesting." When a critic seized upon Deleuze's unusually long, uncut fingernails as a revealing eccentricity, he replied: "I haven't got the normal protective whorls, so that touching anything, especially fabric, causes such irritation that I need long nails to protect them." Deleuze concludes his reply to this critic thus:
"What do you know about me, given that I believe in secrecy? ... If I stick where I am, if I don't travel around, like anyone else I make my inner journeys that I can only measure by my emotions, and express very obliquely and circuitously in what I write. ... Arguments from one's own privileged experience are bad and reactionary arguments."