Los Angeles, California, to a British mother from Essex and an American father from California. His family moved to England when he was three years old. Garfield is Jewish and was raised in a "middle class home". His parents ran a small interior design business; his father, Richard, later became head coach of the Guildford City Swimming Club, and his mother is a teaching assistant at a nursery school. Garfield was raised in Surrey, England and was a gymnast during his early years. He attended the City of London Freemen's School in Ashtead, before training at the Central School of Speech and Drama, from which he graduated in 2004.
Garfield started taking acting classes in Guildford when he was fifteen, and appeared in a youth theater production of Bugsy Malone. He also joined a small youth theater workshop group in Epsom, and began working primarily as a stage actor. In 2004, he won a MEN Theatre Award for his performance in Kes at Manchester's Royal Exchange Theatre (where he also played Romeo the year after), and won the outstanding newcomer award at the Evening Standard Theatre Awards 2006.
Garfield made his British television debut in 2005, appearing in the Channel 4 teenage drama Sugar Rush. In October 2007, he was named one of Variety's "10 Actors to Watch", and in November 2007, appeared in the ensemble drama Lions for Lambs, playing an American university student. Also that month, he starred in the Channel 4 drama Boy A, for which he won the 2008 BAFTA for Best Actor. In 2008, he had a minor role in the film The Other Boleyn Girl, and was named one of the shooting stars at the Berlin International Film Festival.
Garfield appeared in Vogue's December 2009 issue, modeling alongside Lily Cole, in a photographed retelling of Hansel and Gretel. Also that year, Garfield had a supporting role in the Terry Gilliam film The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus and the Red Riding television trilogy. In 2010, he co-starred in the British sci-fi drama Never Let Me Go, as well as in David Fincher's The Social Network, alongside Brenda Song, Justin Timberlake and Jesse Eisenberg, and about the founders of Facebook.
On August 5, 2010, Garfield appeared briefly as Terry Gilliam's assistant in the Arcade Fire webcast pre-show at Madison Square Garden. On September 12, 2010, he co-presented at the 2010 MTV VMAs, with Jesse Eisenberg and Justin Timberlake.
Garfield has been chosen to play Spider-Man opposite Emma Stone in Marc Webb's Spider-Man reboot. Filming began in December 2010, and the film is scheduled for a July 3, 2012 release date.
On December 14, 2010, The Social Network received six nominations for The 68th annual Golden Globe Awards, which will be held on January 16, 2011. Garfield was nominated for a Golden Globe Award for Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role.