A multitude of cellular and subcellular processes depend critically on the mechanical deformability of the cytoplasm. We have recently introduced the method of particle-tracking microrheology, which measures the viscoelastic properties of the cytoplasm locally and with high spatiotemporal resolution. Here we establish the basic principles of particle-tracking microrheology, describing the advantages of this approach over more conventional approaches to cell mechanics. We present basic concepts of molecular mechanics and polymer physics relevant to the microrheological response of cells. Particle-tracking microrheology can probe the mechanical properties of live cells in experimentally difficult, yet more physiological, environments, including cells embedded inside a 3D matrix, adherent cells subjected to shear flows, and cells inside a developing embryo. Particle-tracking microrheology can readily reveal the lost ability of diseased cells to resist shear forces.