Cellulose bearing pendant Schiff base with heterocyclic chelating groups (CMC-Bz) was synthesized, which were fully characterized using various instrumental techniques such as solid state carbon-13 nuclear magnetic resonance (13C-NMR), Fourier transform infrared (FTIR), scanning electron microscope (SEM) and energy dispersive X-ray analysis (EDX) spectra. The adsorption of toxic metals onto cellulosic material was tested in a batch mode operation. The adsorption functional factors such as pH, adsorbent dose, metal ion concentration, equilibrium time and temperature were experimentally optimized for the maximum removal of Cu(II) and Pb(II) ions. Adsorption isotherms were evaluated with Langmuir, Freundlich, Temkin and Redlich–Peterson isotherms. Kinetic parameters and equilibrium adsorption capacities were investigated for pseudo-first-order, pseudo-second-order and intra-particle diffusion models. Thermodynamic parameters and reusability were also evaluated.