Followers are NPCs who agree to join you on your adventures. Some are trained hirelings, mercenaries who will fight in exchange for gold. Others might be ordinary townspeople inspired by your example who agree to follow you if asked. They help in combat and also carry excess inventory.
Most followers can be issued commands. Target your follower, then press and hold E (unless on console) to enter the command state. While in the command state, you can tell your follower to:
- Wait at a specific spot on the ground.
- Use an object in the world, such as a lever or a chair.
- Attack an enemy.
- Open a locked door or container.
- Pick up items in the world.
- Exit the command state by pressing Esc.
Note that not all followers can be commanded, and some commands may not be carried out, either because they are physically impossible for your follower (such as picking a lock that is beyond their skill), or because they object to the command (such as being asked to attack a member of their family).
Be warned, the guards will hold you responsible for any crimes you command a follower to commit!
While followers will attempt to remain at your side, there are some places in Skyrim where they cannot accompany you (such as jail). They will wait outside for you to reappear, but after waiting 3 days, your follower will leave.
Should a follower ever leave your service, they will return to their normal lives. You can always ask them to come with you again (although Hirelings may demand a new fee).