Modified from CliffsNotes
The Outsiders is narrated by the main character, Ponyboy Curtis. The story is placed in Oklahoma during the 1960s.
In the first chapter, Ponyboy introduces himself and gives a brief history of his family. He also describes the relationships between his gang members, and the relationships within his own family. Ponyboy's parents were killed in an automobile accident, leaving him and his two brothers on their own.
Ponyboy is the youngest at 14, Sodapop is 16, and Darry is 20. The authorities allow the three brothers to stay together as long as they "behave." Ponyboy resents Darry and the total control that he attempts to wield over his life; he views their relationship as adversarial and looks to Sodapop for understanding and love.
The brothers consider their gang members — Steve Randle, Two-Bit Mathews, Dallas Winston, and Johnny Cade — to be family. All of the members come from dysfunctional homes and need the gang relationship as a substitute for what is missing in their own families.
As Ponyboy walks home alone after going to a movie, he realizes the inherent danger of doing so. He explains that he is a greaser, a term "used to class all us boys on the East Side," which is the poor side of town. Greasers are known for their long, greased hair. Walking home alone is dangerous because the rival gang, the Socs, could easily attack him. The Socs, short for Socials, are "the jet set, the West-side rich kids," who are from upper-middle-class families. Ponyboy explains that the gangs are "just small bunches of friends who stick together, and the warfare is between the social classes."
As if foreshadowing Ponyboy's own poor decision to walk alone, a carload of four Socs arrives, and one pulls a knife on him. As he attempts to fend off his attackers, Ponyboy hears the pounding of footsteps and the attack turns into an all-out fight as his gang arrives to rescue him from the Socs' attack. Ponyboy's two brothers, Darry and Sodapop, along with their four other gang members, chase the Socs away; Ponyboy escapes with cuts and bruises.