Two young men, Rogers and Steve Jamnik, show up unannounced at the office of Professor Burris, the narrator of the novel. They have just returned from service in the Philippines during World War II. Rogers, a former student of Burris's, reminds the professor that Burris had once talked about a utopian community in one of his classes. Disillusioned with American life, Rogers and Jamnik are looking for a new way to do things and hope that Burris can point them in the right direction. While they are talking, Burris remembers that most of his ideas about building a utopia came from a graduate school classmate of his named T.E. Frazier. When Rogers mentions that his interest in a utopian community was sparked by an article by Frazier, Burris is shocked. He looks up Frazier in an old professional directory and discovers that Frazier is living at a place called "Walden Two." Burris agrees to send Frazier a letter and to pass on any information he gets to Rogers and Jamnik.
Three days later, on a Monday, Frazier writes back to tell Burris that the community of Walden Two is alive and well. He encourages Burris, Jamnik, and Rogers to visit, and to bring friends if they want. Rogers calls just after Burris finishes the letter, and they agree to meet to discuss it that afternoon. During lunch, Burris runs into Augustine Castle. Castle is a philosopher who has taught a course on utopias, and he is fascinated by Burris's account of the real-life utopia that Frazier claims to have built. He asks to go along on the visit, and Burris agrees. That afternoon, Burris meets with Rogers, Jamnik, and their respective girlfriends, Barbara Macklin and Mary Grove. Rogers reads aloud Frazier's article, which discusses the possibility of building a better society with modern technology and the techniques of "behavioral engineering." They all agree to visit Walden Two. Burris calls Castle and they decide to leave on Wednesday.
On Wednesday morning, the group departs by train for Walden Two. They take a bus from the train station to the agreed-upon spot, where Frazier meets them with a car. Frazier drives them into Walden Two, a collection of large earth-colored buildings in the midst of pasture and farmland. He shows the visitors their rooms and tells them that he will return at 3 o'clock, after they have had a chance to rest.
Chapter 1 provides some context for the rest of the novel. In Chapter 2, we will dive into the world of Walden Two, but for now we are in the "outside world." World War II has just ended and Steve, Jamnik, and thousands of other servicemen are returning to their communities with radically changed views about the world and their places in it. Burris, enmeshed in academia, has had no such change of world-view. But the arrival of Steve and Jamnik at his office forces him to get involved in their attempt to change things for the better.
In this chapter and in the novel as a whole, character and setting are of only minor importance. We will grow increasingly familiar with the characters over the course of the novel, especially Burris, Frazier, and Castle (who is introduced in the next chapter), but the focus is always on the ideas that the characters are talking about, not the characters themselves. Many of them, including Steve and Jamnik, remain almost anonymous. Similarly, setting is discussed only inasmuch as it embodies the ideas behind Walden Two--or opposing ideas.
The dialogue in the first chapter also sets a pattern that will hold throughout the novel. It is overwhelmingly expository, whether coming from the mouths of Steve, Burris, or any of the other characters.