Lichtenstein studied at the Art Students' League, New York, and at Ohio State University, Columbus. Though in 1951 he had his first one-man exhibition at the Carlebach Gallery, New York, until 1957 he worked as illustrator and designer, and did display work for shop windows.
From 1957 until 1960 his work could be classified as Abstract Expressionist; previously, he had passed through Geometric Abstraction and Cubism.
Lichtenstein began to paint Pop imagery in 1960. In 1961 he produced about six paintings showing characters from comic-strip frames using the devices which were to become signatures in his work - dots, lettering and speech balloons. These works were immediately accepted for an exhibition by the new Leo Castelli Gallery, in preference to Andy Warhol, who had started doing similar work.
In 1966 he showed at the Venice Biennale, and in 1969 he was given a retrospective at the Guggenheim Museum, which later toured America. Lichtenstein was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1970. During his life, Roy Lichtenstein taught at several schools and universities. He died in 1997.