An electrical breakdown model for liquids in response to a sub-microsecond (∼ 100 ns) voltage pulse is presented, and quantitative evaluations carried out. It is proposed that breakdown is initiated by field emission at the interface of pre-existing micro-bubbles. Impact ionization within the micro-bubble gas then contributes to plasma development, with cathode injection having a delayed and secondary role. Continuous field emission at the streamer tip contributes to filament growth and propagation. This model can adequately explain almost all of the experimentally observed features, including dendritic structures and fluctuations in the pre-breakdown current. Two-dimensional, time-dependent simulations have been carried out based on a continuum model for water, though the results are quite general. Monte Carlo simulations provide the relevant transport parameters for our model. Our quantitative predictions match the available data quite well, including the breakdown delay times and observed optical emission.