The next night, Johnny and Ponyboy meet Dally and head to the drive-in. On the way, they make a little bit of trouble at a drugstore, where Dally shoplifts cigarettes. The boys then sneak in to one of the drive-ins that greasers often visit.
Like many things in town, the drive-ins are usually segregated between Socs and greasers. Hinton illustrates typical greaser behavior in the drugstore shoplifting scene.
There are some Socs at the drive-in, and the boys sit down behind two Soc girls. Dally harasses the girls with dirty talk. Ponyboy feels uncomfortable and declines to join in, while Johnny leaves to get a Coke. One of the girls, a redhead named Cherry Valance, calmly tells Dally to shut up. He doesn't listen. The girls refer to the boys as "greasers" and "hoods."
Ponyboy shows his independence through his disapproval of some of the more unpleasant greaser behavior. That he is bothered by the Soc girls' labeling of him and his friends shows that he can see past those labels.
Soon Dally walks off to the concession booth, and Cherry and Ponyboy start talking. Cherry compliments Ponyboy's name, and as they talk about school Ponyboy reveals that he's skipped a grade. They also talk about Sodapop, whom Cherry calls a "doll." She wonders where Sodapop has been recently. Ashamed, Ponyboy admits that Soda has dropped out of school to work at a gas station.
Cherry demonstrates open-mindedness in her conversation with Ponyboy. She seems genuinely interested in him as a person and does not treat him as just another greaser. Ponyboy's sensitivity and academic success do actually set him apart from most greasers.
When Johnny returns, Cherry smiles at him. But when Dally soon returns and offers Cherry a Coke, she throws it in Dally's face and calls him a "greaser." Dally continues to pester her until Johnny tells Dally to leave Cherry alone. Dally, shocked, storms off. Ponyboy thinks about the relationship between Johnny and Dally, commenting that Johnny is Dally's "pet," while Dally is Johnny's hero. Cherry expresses gratitude to Johnny, and the girls invite Johnny and Ponyboy to sit with them.
When Dally is away, the Soc girls, Ponyboy, and Johnny seem like they could be friends. But as soon as Dally starts acting like a greaser, that's all the girls see in him. Dally's non-violent reaction to Johnny's command shows the bond the two share. Dally respects Johnny's kindness, even if he can't show such kindness himself.
The Soc girls continue talking with Ponyboy and Johnny. Johnny eventually asks Cherry why she isn't afraid of them the way she is of Dally. She explains that they don't act, speak, or look in the mean or frightening way that Dally does. The girls then reveal that they abandoned their boyfriends because their boyfriends brought alcohol to the drive-in.
Cherry is willing to get to know people rather than relying on stereotypes. She sees Johnny and Ponyboy for what they say and do, not just how they look. The boyfriends' behavior indicates that Socs aren't better people than greasers.
Suddenly, Two-Bit comes up behind the boys and shouts, "Okay, greasers, you've had it." Johnny and Ponyboy jump, thinking that they're being confronted by a Soc. Johnny is particularly shaken. Two-Bit sits down and banters with Cherry and Marcia. He's looking for Dally, who's slashed the tires of a car owned by another local tough, Tim Shepard, and is about to fight him. They discuss the rules of fair fighting, which the boys say are commonly understood among greasers but not always respected by Socs. Cherry and Ponyboy get up to buy popcorn. Waiting in line, Cherry asks Ponyboy about Johnny's past.
Ponyboy and Johnny are aware that they're taking a risk by socializing in public with Soc girls. Two-Bit's joke foreshadows the fight between Socs and greasers that occurs in Chapter 4. More details of the greasers' code of conduct are revealed when Two-Bit talks about what makes for a fair fight. Johnny's reaction to the scare illustrates how deeply the Socs' recent attack on him has scarred him.
Ponyboy tells Cherry that the Socs attacked Johnny four months earlier: the greasers found Johnny lying motionless in the park. The severity of his wounds shocked them all, but Dally was especially affected. Johnny revealed that a group of Socs in a blue Mustang threatened and beat him for no apparent reason. Johnny now carries a switchblade that he plans to use if he ever gets jumped again.
The attack on Johnny highlights the destructive and senseless nature of the Soc-greaser conflict. Dally's reaction to Johnny's injuries again shows his particular desire to protect the younger boy. Johnny's switchblade will prove important in later chapters.
Ponyboy's story shocks Cherry. She assures Ponyboy that all Socs are not like the ones who jumped Johnny. Ponyboy is doubtful. Cherry persists by reasoning, for instance, that not all greasers are not like Dally. Ponyboy concedes the point. Cherry tells Ponyboy that Socs have problems, too, and says, "Things are rough all over." Ponyboy doesn't understand what she means.
Cherry begins to help Ponyboy see people as individuals, and to understand that those individuals have similarities, regardless of their appearance or their group.