Acquisition and allocation of resources are central to life-history theory. However, empirical work typically focuses only on allocation despite the fact that relationships between fitness components may be governed by differences in the ability of individuals to acquire resources across environments. Here, we outline a statistical framework to partition the genetic basis of multivariate plasticity into independent axes of genetic variation, and quantify for the first time, the extent to which specific traits drive multitrait genotype–environment interactions. Our framework generalises to analyses of plasticity, growth and ageing. We apply this approach to a unique, large-scale, multivariate study of acquisition, allocation and plasticity in the life history of the cricket, Gryllus firmus. We demonstrate that resource acquisition and allocation are genetically correlated, and that plasticity in trade-offs between allocation to components of fitness is 90% dependent on genetic variance for total resource acquisition. These results suggest that genotype–environment effects for resource acquisition can maintain variation in life-history components that are typically observed in the wild.