The Hobbit begins simply: "In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit." The hobbit in this particular hole is named Bilbo Baggins, and his "hole" is actually a very comfortable residence known as Bag End. The narrator tells us that hobbits are a little people, half the size of a man, and they have become rare and are no longer seen around. They have thick hair on their feet, round bellies, and a taste for a comfortable, peaceful life. Bilbo's father was from the typical, well-to-do Baggins family, but his mother was from the Tooks, a family infamous for their tendency to go on adventures--a very unhobbit-like activity. Despite his Took blood, Bilbo is content to stay at home.
On the day the story begins, he is enjoying a pipe outside his front door when an old man with a long cloak and a staff drops by. Bilbo recognizes the old man as the wizard Gandalf, who has created spectacular fireworks displays on holidays in Hobbiton, but Bilbo still looks on Gandalf with a suspicious eye. When Gandalf asks if Bilbo would be interested in going on an adventure, the hobbit declines and excuses himself quickly, asking the wizard to come by for tea sometime (but only so as not to seem rude). Naturally, then, when the doorbell rings the next afternoon, Bilbo assumes it is Gandalf, so he is surprised when a dwarf named Dwalin enters and promptly sits down to eat. Soon, other dwarves arrive, and Bilbo becomes increasingly confused and annoyed until Gandalf finally enters with the head dwarf, Thorin. The thirteen dwarves and the wizard nearly clean out Bilbo's pantry before finally settling down to discuss their business. It seems that Gandalf has volunteered Bilbo to be a "burglar" for the dwarves on their adventure. The hobbit protests, and the dwarves grumble that "He looks more like a grocer than a burglar." Gandalf, however, is certain that Bilbo will prove useful.
The wizard then brings out an old map of a great mountain and points to a mysterious secret entrance; Thorin holds the key to that door.