- The two players in the game have been accused of a crime and have been placed in separate rooms so that they cannot communicate with one another. (In other words, they can't collude or commit to cooperating.)
- Each player is asked independently whether he is going to confess to the crime or remain silent.
- Because each of the two players has two possible options (strategies), there are four possible outcomes to the game.
- If both players confess, they each get sent to jail, but for fewer years than if one of the players got ratted out by the other.
- If one player confesses and the other remains silent, the silent player gets punished severely while the player who confessed gets to go free.
- If both players remain silent, they each get a punishment that is less severe than if they both confess.
In the table above, the first number in each box refers to the outcome for player 1 and the second number represents the outcome for player 2. These numbers represent just one of many sets of numbers that are consistent with the prisoners' dilemma setup.