In chapter 3, Cherry Valance speaks these words to Ponyboy after she hears him tell the story about the time Johnny was jumped by a group of Socs. Although Cherry sympathizes with Ponyboy and the greasers' everyday struggles, she informs him that "things are rough all over" and explains that the Socs have their own unique set of problems. Cherry goes on to say that being a Soc is like one big rat race, where everyone is continually trying to outdo every else and one's reputation is of the utmost importance. As the story progresses, both Socs and greasers encounter serious issues, and Pony gains important insight into Cherry's social group.
The problems for both gangs begin when Johnny kills Bob Sheldon in self-defense and is forced to skip town with Ponyboy. Later on, Johnny is severely injured in a church fire, the Curtis brothers fear that they will be separated, and the greasers prepare to fight the Socs in a big rumble. In chapter 7, Randy Adderson runs into Ponyboy and explains why he will not participate in the rumble. Randy also elaborates on Bob Sheldon's home life and admits that he has been struggling to cope with the death of his close friend. Randy then tells Ponyboy that he will be "marked chicken" for not fighting in the rumble and has been entertaining the idea of leaving town.
Pony's interaction with Randy contributes to his perspective and underscores Cherry's earlier comment about things being "rough all over." Pony learns that wealthy Socs like Randy struggle in their own way, and everything is not as good as it seems. Although Randy and his friends are wealthy, they experience serious issues regarding self-esteem, grief, and depression. Both Cherry and Randy provide Pony with insight into the lives of Soc members, and he learns that they are more similar than different.
In Chapter 2 of The Outsiders, Cherry Valence tells Ponyboy that "things are rough all over." She tells him this shortly after he finishes telling her why Johnny acts so "hurt and scared." Cherry expresses her sympathy, but doesn't allow the story to make her think that the Greasers have it worse than the Socs. She tells Ponyboy that "things are rough all over." What's revealing about the exchange is that Ponyboy believes her. He doesn't have any evidence yet, but he believes her.
Cherry no longer looked sick, only sad. "I'll bet you think the Socs have it made. The rich kids, the West-side Socs. I'll tell you something, Ponyboy, and it may come as a surprise. We have troubles you've never even heard of. You want to know something?" She looked me straight in the eye. "Things are rough all over."
"I believe you," I said. "We'd better get back out there with the popcorn or Two Bit'll think I ran off with his money."
Chapter 7 represents the calm before the rumble storm. Dally and Johnny are both in the hospital. Dally is going to be okay, but Johnny is not doing well. Toward the end of the chapter, Randy, a Soc, comes to talk to Ponyboy. Randy wants to understand why Pony and Johnny saved those kids. He can't understand why a Greaser would do such a thing. Pony tells him that it had nothing to do with being a Greaser. Randy then begins to explain to Ponyboy that he is having a hard time coming to terms with the death of Bob and the pointlessness of the gang war. He's sick of it and of the class distinctions that mean nothing anymore.
"And tonight... people get hurt in rumbles, maybe killed. I'm sick of it because it doesn't do any good. You can't win, you know that, don't you?" And when I remained silent he went on: "You can't win, even if you whip us. You'll still be where you were before—at the bottom. And we'll still be the lucky ones with all the breaks. So it doesn't do any good, the fighting and the killing. It doesn't prove a thing. We'll forget it if you win, or if you don't. Greasers will still be greasers and Socs will still be Socs.
By the time the conversation ends, Ponyboy has finally seen concrete evidence of how things are rough all over because he understands the futility of gang war and the Soc's grief over deaths they see. When another Greaser asks him about that Soc (Randy), Ponyboy responds by saying that it wasn't a Soc, just a guy because now Ponyboy sees through the class war and the war against privilege to the humanity of individuals, some with more, some with less.
"He ain't a Soc," I said, "he's just a guy. He just wanted to talk."
As Cherry Valance points out to Ponyboy earlier in the novel, "things are rough all over" and they continue to be so in Chapter 7. Ponyboy, Sodapop, and Darry all worry about the possibility of the younger brothers being put in a boys' home, and all of the gang frets over Johnny's worsening condition while in the hospital. Meanwhile, the Socs have their own set of concerns to deal with, mostly those stemming from the tragedy of Bob's death. Bob's best friend, Randy, confides in Ponyboy that he no longer believes that fighting does any good. He mourns the loss of his best friend and has come to realize that the outcome of any rumble has no power to change any social circumstance. All the characters, whether Greaser or Soc, struggle with the seriousness of recent events: Bob's death, Johnny's accident, and the upcoming rumble.