After the introduction, Nephi begins his story. First he mentions the role of God in his own life, speaks of his father Lehi and his learning, and claims that this is his own firsthand account. He places his family in Jerusalem during the first year of Zedekiah, king of Judah, which connects the Book of Mormon to the Biblical tradition (2 Kings 24:17). Many prophets came warn the people that they must repent, or Jerusalem would be destroyed, Lehi, the father of Nephi, was disturbed by these prophecies and went out to pray to the Lord. He was shown two successive visions, in which he was told that Jerusalem would be destroyed, but he was to go out and testify of the coming of a Messiah and the wickedness of the people.
Nephi then interrupts briefly to that he was writing on (metallic) plates, and that his father kept many records of his visions and prophecies, which Nephi only summarizes. Lehi was met by
disbelief and mockery, and, it is suggested, death threats.
In chapter 2, Lehi had a dream in which he was commended for his obedience, informed that there were plots against his life, and instructed to take his family into the wilderness. He was evidently a wealthy man, with "gold, and silver, and precious things", all of which he left behind, only taking his family, provisions, and tents. He traveled toward the Red Sea, and found a "river of water". (Those familiar with the region suggest that this was a wadi which happened to flowing at the season when they encountered it: there is more than one plausible candidate) The two older brothers, Laman and Lemuel, are paired together throughout as rebellious and unbelieving, and had a confrontation with their father. Nephi, who was more spiritually inclined, prayed to the Lord about his father's visions and received some sort of confirmation. Laman and Lemuel didn't believe Nephi either, but Sam did. Nephi took this back to God, and was told that if he was obedient, he would become a ruler and teacher over his brothers. This conflict between the brothers, he was told, would continue among their respective descendants.
In Chapter 3, Lehi told his sons that God wanted them to return to Jerusalem to obtain a set of records written on plates of Brass, in the possession of a man named Laban. Laman and Lemuel complained of the difficulty of the task, but Nephi affirmed that if God commands something to be done, he will also prepare a way to do it. The four returned to Jerusalem. Laman and Lemuel went first to Laban, apparently to simply ask for the plates. Rather than give a simple refusal, Laban threw them out as thieves and robbers and threatened to kill them. Laman and Lemuel were about to give up then and there, but Nephi persuaded them to try to trade for the plates. They went to Lehi's abandoned house to collect his gold, silver, and other property (at this point, Lehi had apparently not been gone long enough for others to help themselves) and buy or trade for the plates. This might have worked had Laban been more honorable and less greedy, but he saw a chance to commit his own bit of robbery and set his guards on them.
Laman and Lemue blamed Nephi and Sam (who appears a something of a rather pale shadow of his younger brother), used much harsh language, and started to administer a beating. This beating was interrupted by an angel who told them that God had appointed Nephi a ruler over them and promised that if they would try again, God would deliver Laban into their hands.
Almost incredibly, Laman and Lemuel didn't believe it. They thought that Laban, apparently a commander of fifty in the Jewish military and no weakling himself, was still too much for them to handle.