Ponyboy Curtis, the narrator of The Outsiders, walks out of a movie theater in Tulsa, and heads home. He enjoys watching movies alone, but now wishes he had some company because greasers like him aren't safe from members of a rival gang, the Socs. Greasers, Ponyboy says, are from the East Side and are poorer than the West Side Socs. Greasers wear their hair long, dress in jeans and leather jackets, and some steal, rob, and fight in public. Ponyboy, however, avoids such behavior because his strict older brother Darry would kill him (or his middle brother Sodapop) if they got into trouble. Ponyboy adds that Darry, who cares for his two younger siblings in the wake of their parents' deaths, would yell at him if he knew he was walking alone. He'd also say that he wasn't using his head.
Ponyboy's descriptions establish the conflict between the Socs and greasers as being based on class and appearance. The conflict between Ponyboy and Darry is also established in this opening scene. In addition, while Ponyboy obviously identifies with both the greasers and his brothers, his thoughts show that he has some unique qualities: his introspection, intelligence, occasional carelessness and lack of common sense, and his avoidance of trouble.
Ponyboy notices a red Corvair following him. He suspects it's a group of Socs, and thinks of his friend Johnny, who was recently badly beaten by the Socs. The car pulls up next to Ponyboy. Five Socs get out. They taunt Ponyboy, threaten to cut off his hair with a switchblade, and pin him down. He fears for his life and attempts in vain to fight back while screaming for help. His brothers and other greasers hear his cries and come to his aid. The Socs flee.
When assaulting Ponyboy, the Socs focus on his long hair, a superficial part of greaser identity. Instead of seeing him as an individual, they see him only as a member of a rival group. Ponyboy's fears of death show the seriousness of the conflict and foreshadow the deaths that occur later in the novel.
After the other greasers return from chasing off the Socs, Ponyboy comments on each of their qualities. Steve Randle, Sodapop's best friend, loves cars but treats Ponyboy like a child. Two-Bit Matthews always has a joke to tell, likes to fight, and gets in trouble with the police. Dallas Winston radiates danger and toughness, and was first arrested at the age of ten. Johnny Cade is younger than the others, has a violent home life, and is treated with special care by the gang.
Though he and Johnny are the youngest of the gang, Ponyboy resents being treated like a child by Steve Randle. He wants to be treated like an adult, a full member of the gang. Note that Dally and Johnny's childhoods were both fraught with violence, signaling a connection between those two. Johnny is portrayed as especially vulnerable.
Once it's clear the danger has passed, Darry scolds Ponyboy for walking alone without a weapon. Ponyboy bristles at Darry's words. Sodapop defends Ponyboy.
Curtis family dynamics: Darry's efforts to keep Ponyboy safe sound to Ponyboy like criticisms. Sodapop acts as mediator.
Dally invites everyone to the double feature at the drive-in the next night. Ponyboy and Johnny agree to go. Dally reveals that he has broken up with his girlfriend, and Ponyboy wonders what non-greaser girls are like.
Ponyboy's musings about Soc girls hints at his capacity to see past the Soc–Greaser conflict and foreshadows the friendship he will soon strike up with Cherry Valance.
Back at home, Ponyboy works on his homework and thinks about the sacrifices Darry has made: passing up a college scholarship and working construction to support the Curtis family after their parents died. As they fall asleep, Sodapop tells Ponyboy that Darry's harsh words result from his big responsibilities and his desire to protect Ponyboy. Sodapop also confesses his love for his sweetheart Sandy and reveals his plans to marry her when she finishes school.