Eli was High Priest, in the line of Ithamar. He was also Judge of Israel, at Shiloh, for 40 years. It was to him that Hannah entrusted her son, Samuel, to be raised. Although he was High Priest, Eli failed to curb the sinful behavior of his sons, Hophni and Phinehas, who were priests.
God told Samuel that Eli's family would be punished for blaspheming God. Samuel told Eli about this and Eli said that the Lord should do what He thinks is best. Later, Eli's sons were killed as they accompanied the Ark of the Covenant into a battle against the Philistines. When Eli had heard the news, he fell backwards while seated in a chair, broke his neck and died. He was 98-years old at the time.
Eli's descendants continued in the office of High Priest up until the time of Solomon. At that time, Abiathar, who had supported Adonijah's bid for the throne, was replaced by Zadok, thus bringing an end to Eli's line. This event is mentioned in  as the fulfillment of the prophecy against the house of Eli.
The name Eli is the English translation of the Hebrew word עֵלִי (ay-lee), which means "lofty". It comes from a Hebrew verb (עָלָה aw-law) meaning "to ascend".