We present and study a model for the nonequilibrium statistical mechanics of protein distributions in a proliferating cell population. Our model describes how the total protein variation is shaped by two processes: variation in protein production internal to the cells and variation in division and inheritance at the population level. It enables us to assess the contribution of each of these components separately. We find that, even if production is deterministic, cell division can generate a large variation in protein distribution. In this limit we solve exactly a special case and draw an analogy between protein distribution along cell generations and stress distribution in layers of granular material. At the other limit of extremely noisy protein production, we find that the population structure restrains variation and that the details of division do not affect the tail of the distribution.