The 17-year-old scored his first competitive goal for the club to give Brendan Rodgers a league victory at Anfield at the fifth attempt.
The result elevates the Reds into mid-table with eight games played, as it prepares for tough fixtures against Everton, Newcastle and Chelsea.
The only change for Liverpool from its goalless draw with Stoke was an enforced one, Brad Jones replacing the injured Pepe Reina to make his first Barclays Premier League start for the Reds.
The hosts were quick to establish their dominance against a side that had conceded 14 goals in seven games heading to Anfield.
Nuri Sahin attempted a dipping effort from the angle of the box on the quarter-hour mark, and Sterling bent one from 20 yards, though goalkeeper Alex McCarthy wasn't overly troubled by either.
Jones, a spectator for most of the first half, collected a cross and bowled quickly into midfield, where Luis Suarez and Steven Gerrard seized possession before dispatching Sterling down the left. The 17-year-old might have had too much time to ponder, for his decision to stall and try to beat a man led only to a goal kick.
Minutes later Suarez used craft under duress to work a few inches on the edge of the area. His shot looped over the goalkeeper but the crossbar too. Was it going to be another one of those days at Anfield?
Sterling had a chance for redemption down the left and this time he was smart, tapping into the stride of Sahin, but the Turk couldn't keep his shot down.
Reading was forced into a change midway through the half, Jem Karacan coming off worse from a 50-50 with Gerrard and having to be replaced by Gareth McCleary. It made little difference to the sway of the contest, and soon dominance was rewarded.
There were 29 minutes on the clock when Suarez poked his toe at the ball to direct it through the Reading defense ready for Sterling to take a touch and guide right-footed beyond McCarthy into the bottom corner of the Anfield Road net.
Suarez almost made it 2-0 shortly afterwards when he danced past his marker 30 yards from goal and lashed a fierce effort through the box. It hit the hoardings rather than the net, but only just.
There was a moment of levity in the 38th minute when referee Roger East awarded Suarez a free-kick on the edge of the area, and more than 40,000 home fans stood in unison for a sarcastic round of applause.
The free-kick was wasted but the chances kept coming, at one end at least. Next it was Glen Johnson who threatened, stinging the palms of McCarthy with a shot from just inside the area.
The final act of the opening period was a foul by Kaspars Gorkks which left Suarez ailing (this time he didn't get the decision), and the Uruguayan was still hobbling when the game commenced after half-time, though Liverpool did not seem handicapped. Within 47 seconds of the restart Sterling had tested McCarthy, and soon after Johnson came close with a blast at the Kop end.
Having run off his knock, Suarez danced one way and then another, beating Gorkks with his agility but not McCarthy with his shot.
At the other end there was a first chance for the visitors as McCleary ghosted in behind Andre Wisdom only to be denied by the feet of Jones, whose concentration was superb.
The Australian was on the ground again within minutes to palm away a Jobi McAnuff strike from distance.
Usual service then resumed, Sterling proving difficult to stop down his flank before crossing to Suarez, whose first-time shot flew into the stand.
Martin Skrtel flashed a header inches over after meeting a Gerrard corner at the near post, while substitute Jonjo Shelvey should have done better at the far when Suarez sent an inviting cross his way.
Johnson was thwarted on the line as the chances kept coming, and a second goal was proving elusive.
Back from an injury which has punctuated his season so far, Jose Enrique was introduced in the 74th minute and played a part in teeing up another opportunity for Suarez, but again it went begging.
Liverpoolfc.com journalists' man of the match: Glen Johnson.
Photo via LiverpoolFC.com