Ratu Cakobau was educated first at Fiji's Queen Victoria School, then at Newington College in Australia (1927–1932) and Wanganui Technical College in Wanganui, New Zealand. He became a member of the Great Council of Chiefs in 1938, where he remained until 1972. When he first joined the Council, it had the power to make laws for the ethnic Fijian population, but this power was removed towards the end of the colonial era, as modern political institutions were built.
Ratu Cakobau served with the Fiji Military Forces in World War II (1939–1945), rising to the rank of Captain. Following his return to Fiji after the end of the war, he was nominated to the Legislative Council in 1951. He remained a member of this body, which was renamed the House of Representatives when Fiji became independent in 1970, until his appointment as Governor-General. He served in the Cabinet, first as Minister for Fijian Affairs and Local Government and subsequently as a minister without portfolio, from 1970 to 1972.
One significant event marked Ratu Cakobau's tenure as Governor-General. In March 1977, a constitutional crisis developed following a general election which gave a narrow majority to the Indo-Fijian dominated National Federation Party (NFP). Three days after the election, the NFP splintered in a leadership brawl, and Ratu Cakobau, acting as Fiji's effective Head of State, then called on the defeated Prime Minister, Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara, to form a new government, pending fresh elections (which were held in September, and resulted in a landslide win for Mara's Alliance Party).
In a public statement, Ratu Cakobau defended his actions thus:
"In the recent general election, the people of Fiji did not give a clear mandate to either of the major political parties. It therefore became the duty of the Governor-General under the Constitution to appoint as Prime Minister the Member of the House of Representatives who appeared to him best able to command the support of the majority of the Members of the House. The Governor-General has not been able to act sooner as it was not until this afternoon that he was informed who had been elected leader of the National Federation Party. The Governor-General, after taking all relevant circumstances into account, has come to the firm conclusion that the person best able to command support of the majority of the Members is the Leader of the Alliance Party, Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara. In compliance with the Constitution and acting in his own deliberate judgment the Governor-General has accordingly appointed Ratu Sir Kamisese as Prime Minister."
Although Cakobau's actions were unquestionably constitutional, they were controversial. Despite the disarray in the NFP, many people, especially in the Indo-Fijian community, were outraged at his role in usurping a popular election, in what many Indo-Fijians saw as a blatant move to protect the privileged position of his fellow Fijian chiefs, who dominated the Mara government.
Ratu Cakobau was decorated with many honours during his lifetime. Among these was Royal Victorian Chain, a rare and prestigious honour awarded as a sign of the special relationship between Fiji and the Monarchy, following the visit of Queen Elizabeth II in 1982. Ratu George was a Freemason.
Ratu Cakobau played four first-class cricket matches for Fiji during their 1947/48 tour to New Zealand. Ratu Cakobau made his debut first-class debut against Auckland and played his fourth and final first-class match on tour against Otago.
In his four first-class matches Ratu Cakobau scored 176 runs at a batting average of 25.14, with a single half century score of 67* coming against Wellington. With the ball he took 5 wickets at a bowling average of 52.00, with best figures of 2/48. Additionally he took 3 catches in the field.
During the tour to New Zealand, Ratu Cakobau also played 9 non-first-class matches for Fiji, with his final match coming against Hawke's Bay.
He also played a rugby union Test match for Fiji in 1939, against a New Zealand Maori team at Hamilton. Fiji won by 10 points, with Cakobau contributing two points, through a conversion.
Ratu Cakobau was married twice, first to Adi Veniana Gavoka, then to Lady Lelea Seruwaia Balekiwai. Several of his children have distinguished themselves in public service. Adi Samanunu Talakuli has held Cabinet office and served as her country's High Commissioner to Malaysia, before being appointed to the Senate in June 2006. Ratu George Cakobau, Jr. and Adi Litia Cakobau also served in the Senators from 2001 to 2006. His youngest son, Ratu Tanoa Cakobau, was President of the Conservative Alliance, the junior partner in the ruling coalition from 2001 to 2006.
Ratu Cakobau retired from office in 1983, but as Fiji's traditional Paramount Chief, he remained influential until his death in 1989.