Both the narrator and the neighbor are rural property owners, responsible for maintaining their land as needed for the use to which each has designated it. Both engage in the shared rebuilding of the wall every spring; "To each the boulders that have fallen to each."
The narrator has an apple orchard on his side of the wall; the neighbor's property is planted in pine trees. Because "my apple trees will never get across and eat the cones under his pines," the narrator raises the question of why the wall is needed. He argues that walls "give offence" by "walling in or walling out" and that it is not needed in this location. The narrator seems willing to make a change in the yearly pattern, and in the neighborly relationship.
The neighbor is resolute. "Good fences make good neighbors," he replies as he continues stacking the stones. The narrator comes to see the neighbor "like an old stone savage" moving in the darkness "not of woods only and the shade of trees," but also in the inflexibility of clinging to his dead father's motto regardless of the circumstances of the present.