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A Game of Thrones is the first of seven planned novels in A Song of Ice and Fire, an epic fantasy series by American author George R. Fifteen years prior to the novel, the Seven Kingdoms were torn apart by a civil war, known alternately as "Robert's Rebellion" and the "War of the Usurper." Prince Rhaegar Targaryen kidnapped Lyanna Stark, arousing the ire of her family and of her betrothed, Lord Robert Baratheon (the war's titular rebel).
The Mad King, Aerys II Targaryen, had Lyanna's father and eldest brother executed when they demanded her safe return.
Her second brother, Eddard, joined his boyhood friend Robert Baratheon and Jon Arryn, with whom they had been fostered as children, in declaring war against the ruling Targaryen dynasty, securing the allegiances of House Tully and House Arryn through a network of dynastic marriages (Lord Eddard to Catelyn Tully and Lord Arryn to Lysa Tully).
The powerful House Tyrell continued to support the King, but House Lannister and House Martell both stalled due to insults against their houses by the Targaryens.
The civil war climaxed with the Battle of the Trident, when Prince Rhaegar was killed in battle by Robert Baratheon.
The Lannisters finally agreed to support King Aerys, but then brutally turned against him, sacking the capital at King's Landing.
The most storylines begin in the year 298 AC (After Conquest), whilst the prologue takes place in 297 AC. Eddard Stark, Lord of Winterfell and Warden of the North, performs the execution of a man of the Night's Watch who has betrayed his vows and fled from the Wall.
His sons Robb and Bran, his bastard son Jon Snow, and his ward Theon Greyjoy all attend.
After the beheading, Robb finds a dead direwolf (the sigil of House Stark), killed by the antlers of a stag (the sigil of House Baratheon), which had given birth to five pups before it died.
Robb and his brothers ask to keep them and Eddard consents, on the condition that the children themselves take care of them, rather than leaving the matter to the servants of House Stark.
Jaime Lannister of the Kingsguard betrayed and murdered King Aerys and House Lannister swore loyalty to Robert Baratheon.
The Tyrells and remaining royalists surrendered and Robert Baratheon was declared King of the Seven Kingdoms.
Unfortunately, during the war, Lyanna Stark had died, apparently of illness shortly after her brother captured the fortress where she'd been held captive; Robert Baratheon instead married Cersei Lannister to cement the alliance with her House.