The play begins with the entrance of the flustered Alceste and his good-natured friend, Philinte. Alceste insists that they are no longer friends because Philinte will socialize with others, speaking strong words of praise, but when they are not in his presence, Philinte admits that the person means very little.
Alceste believes that people should only speak with utmost sincerity. If we embrace every acquaintance with false adoration, we are being untrue to our fellow man. Philinte argues that there are appropriate times to keep one’s true feeling unexpressed.
Alceste contends that, despite social expectations, he willfully explains his honest opinions to people’s faces. Also, he sees so many flaws in others, he often wishes to distance himself from the rest of the human race. Philinte suggests that they are like two characters from the play “School for Husbands,” another Moliere comedy. Alceste is annoyed by the comparison. He further claims that he hates all men without exception. Some deserve his hatred because they are wicked; the others deserve his disdain because they allow the wicked to proceed with their evil.