Lindelof was born in Teaneck, New Jersey, the son of Susan Klausner, a teacher, and David Lindelof, a bank manager. He attended Teaneck High School, a school whose diverse student body he credits with expanding his horizons as a writer. His mother is Jewish and his father was of Scandinavian descent.
Lindelof celebrated his bar mitzvah in Teaneck, where he attended synagogue for the Sabbath; he has stated, "I was a Jewish white kid growing up in Teaneck, but at the same time, I had African and Filipino and Asian friends and to have that experience all through high school while getting an awesome education was wonderful." Lindelof attended film school at New York University, performing briefly in the band Petting Zoo, and moved to Los Angeles after graduating.
An early boost to his writing career came in 1999, when he was selected as a semifinalist for a Nicholl Fellowship for his screenplay Perfectionists. Before this, he worked on reviewing scripts at Paramount, Fox, and Alan Ladd studios.
Lindelof is the writer of the comic book miniseries Ultimate Wolverine vs. Hulk for Marvel Comics, which takes place in the Ultimate Marvel universe and began publication in January 2006. Despite being a six-issue miniseries, production was suspended after the second issue in February 2006 due to Lindelof's heavy workload elsewhere; however, the last of the scripts were submitted to Marvel in 2008 and the series resumed publication in March 2009. Lindelof wrote a Rip Hunter story for Time Warp No. 1 (May 2013) which was drawn by Jeff Lemire and published by Vertigo.
He was an executive producer and joint showrunner (alongside Carlton Cuse) on Lost. Lindelof and the Lost writing staff won the Writers Guild of America (WGA) Award for Best Dramatic Series at the February 2006 ceremony for their work on the first and second seasons. He was nominated for the WGA Award for Best Dramatic Series a further three times. At the February 2007 ceremony for his work on the second and third seasons, at the February 2009 ceremony for his work on the fourth season and at the February 2010 ceremony for his work on the fifth season. Lindelof and his co-writer Drew Goddard were also nominated for the WGA Award for Best Episodic Drama at the February 2008 ceremony for writing the episode "Flashes Before Your Eyes."
Lost was praised for its unique brand of storytelling and strong characters. The first two seasons of the show were ratings juggernauts and the show never fell out of the top 30 throughout its six seasons on the air. Lindelof and co-show-runner Carlton Cuse have been heralded as two of the first to truly embrace the changing times with things such as their daily podcast and being active in the fan community. A majority of the six seasons were met with critical praise, however, both Lindelof and Cuse were not afraid to address critiques on the show, be it through the podcast or other forms of media. However, Lindelof said in late 2013 that he would no longer be addressing those displeased with the way the show ended stating, "And what do I do? I jump at the opportunity to acknowledge how many people were dissatisfied with how it ended. I try to be self-deprecating and witty when I do this, but that's an elaborate (or obvious?) defense mechanism to let people know I'm fully aware of the elephant in the room and I'm perfectly fine with it sitting down on my face and shitting all over me... And here's my part: I will finally stop talking about it. I'm not doing this because I feel entitled or above it — I'm doing it because I accept that I will not change hearts nor minds. I will not convince you they weren't dead the whole time, nor resent you for believing they were despite my infinite declarations otherwise."
In December 2008, Lindelof was the featured guest on an episode of The Write Environment, a public television series featuring in-depth, candid one-on-one interviews with some of TV's most prolific and well-known series creator/writers. Other notable writers to appear on the series are Joss Whedon and Tim Kring. The interview is also available on DVD.
It was believed that after the conclusion of Lost, Lindelof and J. J. Abrams would write and produce a film adaptation of Stephen King's The Dark Tower, but Lindelof squelched this notion in a Q&A with USA Today in late 2009, commenting, "After working six years on Lost, the last thing I want to do is spend the next seven years adapting one of my favorite books of all time. I'm such a massive Stephen King fan that I'm terrified of screwing it up. I'd do anything to see those movies written by someone else. My guess is they will get made because they're so incredible. But not by me."
He served as co-producer on the 2009 film, Star Trek. Along with producing the sequel, he also co-wrote the screenplay with Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci. He also co-wrote the screenplay for the film adaptation of the comic series Cowboys & Aliens with the duo, directed by Jon Favreau.
In 2011, he aided in development of the series Once Upon a Time, which was created by former Lost writers Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz, but was not officially credited in the pilot.
Lindelof co-wrote Ridley Scott's Prometheus, released in June 2012.
In 2012, he co-wrote the screenplay for movie Tomorrowland with director Brad Bird, based on a story by Lindelof, Bird and Jeff Jensen.
In 2013, he co-created the TV series The Leftovers with Tom Perrotta based on Perrotta's novel of the same name for HBO. He also served as showrunner and executive producer throughout the show's three seasons.
Lindelof is a self-professed Stephen King fan and has placed many references to King's work into Lost, as well as mentioning within the Official Lost Podcast that The Stand serves as a huge influence. Lindelof has been quoted as saying that the graphic novel Watchmen, written by Alan Moore, is the greatest piece of popular fiction ever produced, and its effect on Lost is evident many times in the show. He has also mentioned David Lynch's Twin Peaks as a big influence for Lost. J.J. Abrams has often cited Patrick McGoohan's similarly allegorical sci-fi/spy series The Prisoner as another major influence on Lost. Lindelof lists his favorite six films, in no particular order, as Touch of Evil, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Pulp Fiction, The Shining, Bambi, and The Godfather Part II. Lindelof is also a fan of the television series The Wire, Breaking Bad, and Battlestar Galactica.
Lindelof married Heidi Mary Fugeman in 2005; the couple have one child.
Lindelof has been the subject of controversy over his various tweets on his Twitter account for being outspoken on his reactions to various movies like The Dark Knight Rises and defending the mixed to negative response to the ending of the show Lost. Lindelof deleted his Twitter account on October 14, 2013 the date of "the departure" on his then-upcoming HBO show, The Leftovers. Lindelof stopped his final tweet in mid-sentence leaving his followers to wonder in regards to the significance. Lindelof's final tweet read, "After much thought and deliberation, I've decided t." Lindelof later said that he felt as though his time on Twitter was consuming him in a negative fashion and that he has no intentions of returning to the site.