Laser assisted machining (LAM) is an effective method machining difficult-to-machine materials such as ceramics which uses a high power laser to focally heat a workpiece prior to material removal with a traditional cutting tool. A laser assisted machining experiment system was set up and a transient, three-dimensional heat transfer model was developed for LAM of silicon nitride using Finite Element Method to understand the thermal process of laser heating. The model was based on temperature-dependent thermophysical properties and the heat generated was neglected due to cutting which is assumed to be small compared to the heat generated by laser heating. The experiments were carried out to investigate the effects of operating parameters, such as laser power, laser translational speed, rotational speed, laser beam diameter and preheating time on temperature distribution. An infrared radiation thermometer was used to measure the surface temperature histories and the experimental results were in good agreement with predictions. The laser power and laser translational speed have the greatest influence on the temperature.