Optical binding is an optomechanical effect exhibited by systems of micro- and nanoparticles, suitably irradiated with off-resonance laser light. Physically distinct from standing-wave and other forms of holographic optical traps, the phenomenon arises as a result of an interparticle coupling with individual radiation modes, leading to optically induced modifications to Casmir-Polder interactions. To better understand how this mechanism leads to the observed assemblies and formation of patterns in nanoparticles, we develop a theory in terms of optically induced energy landscapes exhibiting the three-dimensional form of the potential energy field. It is shown in detail that the positioning and magnitude of local energy maxima and minima depend on the configuration of each particle pair, with regards to the polarization and wave vector of the laser light. The analysis reveals how the positioning of local minima determines the energetically most favorable locations for the addition of a third particle to each equilibrium pair. It is also demonstrated how the result of such an addition subtly modifies the energy landscape that will, in turn, determine the optimum location for further particle additions. As such, this development represents a rigorous and general formulation of the theory, paving the way toward full comprehension of nanoparticle assembly based on optical binding.