She was born and raised in Louisville, Kentucky, the daughter of Karen, who runs a children's camp, and Gary Lawrence, who once owned a concrete construction firm, Lawrence and Associates. She acted in church plays and, by the age of 14, had decided to pursue an acting career, persuading her parents to take her to New York City to find a talent agent.
She starred in Guillermo Arriaga's directorial debut The Burning Plain, opposite Charlize Theron and Kim Basinger. Her performance in the film earned her the Marcello Mastroianni Award for best young emerging actor/actress during the Venice Film Festival in 2008.She was part of the main cast of the TBS comedy The Bill Engvall Show as Lauren Pearson.
She has been cast as Katniss Everdeen in the movie The Hunger Games, set to be released in March 2012.On June 18, 2011, it was announced that Lawrence was invited to join the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences alongside other actors and actresses that include Mila Kunis, Russell Brand, Bradley Cooper, and her Winter's Bone co-star John Hawkes.