Whereas the previous novel was hard science fiction with armies and space warfare, Speaker for the Dead is more philosophical in nature. Its story finds Andrew in a human colony on the colony planet Lusitania, believed to be the only planet in Card's universe with an intelligent alien race. The novel deals with the difficult relationship between the humans and the "piggies" (or "pequeninos") and with Andrew's attempts to bring peace to a brilliant but troubled family whose history intertwines with that of the pequeninos.
The title alludes to the profession Andrew assumes in the novel, an invention of Card's. A Speaker for the Dead gives a speech following the death of an individual, attempting to describe the ultimate truths of their life, not merely lionizing or vilifying the dead but rather attempting to state the good and the bad, bluntly, as well as stating the intentions behind those actions. In the novel, a Speaker is considered to be roughly the social equal of a cleric of a traditional religion.
This novel, like Ender's Game, won the Hugo award (1987) and Nebula award (1986) for outstanding science fiction novel, making Card the first author in history to win both these awards in two consecutive years.