In this study, a thermal–elastic–plastic finite element model is proposed to investigate the effect of volume energy density on the temperature field, molten pool size, and residual stress distribution in the selective laser melting (SLM) process of Inconel 718 alloy. A temperature-dependent thermal–mechanical property of materials is considered, as well as the properties conversion between powder layer and solidified alloy. Within the scope of the study parameters, the simulated molten pool size increases with increasing volume energy density and exhibits linear growth relationship, which are validated by the experimental results and show a good agreement. In addition, five scanning strategies are adopted to study the effect of these scanning strategies on the residual stress distribution in this research. The results show that the residual stress distribution of SLM Inconel 718 specimen largely depends on the scanning strategy. Finally, to reveal the mechanism of residual stress formation, the restraint bar model is used to further analyze the formation mechanism of residual stress during the SLM process.