There are many kinds of life insurance, but they generally fall into two categories: term insurance and permanent insurance.
Term insurance is designed to meet temporary needs. It provides protection for a specific period of time (the "term") and generally pays a benefit only if you die during the term. This type of insurance often makes sense when you have a need for coverage that will disappear at a specific point in time. For instance, you may decide that you only need coverage until your children graduate from college or a particular debt is paid off, such as your mortgage.
In contrast, permanent insurance provides lifelong protection. As long as you pay the premiums, and no loans, withdrawals or surrenders are taken, the full face amount will be paid. Because it is designed to last a lifetime, permanent life insurance accumulates cash value and is priced for you to keep over a long period of time.