Dead lifts, when done properly, will kick your ass, but the benefits are bountiful.
Your quadriceps, hamstrings, and calves are going to do a large part of the work, and your lower back will be assisting. There are two variations. You can use an Olympic bar loaded with plates, or you can use dumbbells. The bar is most commonly used.
Oh, you're gonna need some straps. If you don't have any, that's fine, but if you want to go heavy and don't have the grip strength, straps will be your best friend.
To begin with, start with the bar unloaded, so you can get used to the proper form. With the bar in front of you, stand with your feet just inside of shoulder width apart. Squat down with the bar close to your shins and grab the bar outside the width of your legs. Just a note, there's two grips: standard and "sumo." Standard is just an overhand grip. "Sumo" is one hand overhand grip, the other underhand grip. Really, there's no difference between the two, though some swear that the "Sumo" grip allows for more power and a heavier workload. Use whichever you're comfortable with.
Keep your back straight, your abdominals engaged, and your head looking up. Concentrate on lifting the bar up along but not touching your shins, and stand straight up. Lower the bar in a controlled manner to the floor following the same path, and rest for a moment in the starting position.
When you keep form and your abdominals engaged, this will minimize the amount of stress on your lower back, and put all the work on the quadriceps, hamstrings and calves.
If you need more info, you can Google to your heart's content, but remember to work what's best for you and gives you the minimum amount of discomfort.