As the prince is in the vicinity of other asteroids, he begins to visit those. The first has a king who proclaims that the prince is his subject, which makes sense after a moment because for kings all men are subjects. The whole planet is covered in his ermine cloak. The prince yawns and the king rebukes him. Then he decides to command him to yawn, then sputters that he commands the prince to yawn or not yawn. This is because kings want to be universally respected and can tolerate no disobedience. However, he is kind and his commands are reasonable.
The king commands the boy to sit. The prince asks over what he reigns and the king replies everything (though there is not much there). The prince asks if he can command the stars and when the king says yes, the boy marvels because he wishes he could make the sun rise and sun set whenever he wanted. The king explains that all of his orders are reasonable so no one wants to disobey them.
The prince realizes the king does not know when the sunset will actually occur so he says he is leaving. This distresses the king, who says he will make the prince minister of justice if he stays. The boy is confused and says there is no one to judge. The king replies he can judge himself, which is very hard. He then says he thinks there may be a rat here so the prince could judge the rat, condemn him to death, and then pardon him. The prince does not like this, and politely says he is going. The king cannot provide a reasonable command, and sighs.
A vain man who wears a hat to collect acclamations inhabits the next planet. The prince is a bit confused at first but when the man tells him to clap and the prince does so, the man tips his hat. The prince thinks this is much more entertaining than the king.
After a few minutes, though, he is bored. The man asks if the prince admires him as the best-dressed and richest and handsomest man on his planet. The prince tells him he is the only man there. The man wants the admiration just the same.
The prince leaves, thinking to himself that grownups are strange.
The next planet features a drunkard. The man says he drinks to forget, to forget that he is ashamed, and that he is ashamed of drinking. The prince’s spirits flag. He goes on his way.
At the next planet, the prince meets a businessman who is counting. The prince asks what he is doing and the man says he cannot be bothered with trifles because he is very serious. After a moment the man explains that he has lived here for 54 years and has only been interrupted three times: the first was a beetle falling on his desk, which ruined his calculations; the second was an attack of rheumatism; and the third is right now.
The prince inquires why he counts to five million and the serious man explains that he is counting the shiny things in the sky. He states matter-of-factly that he owns the stars. The prince responds that he met a king who said he reigned over them, and the man explains that that is different. It is better to own them so he can buy other stars.
The prince thinks to himself that this man argues a bit like the drunkard, but nonetheless asks how someone can own the stars. The businessman asks to whom they belong and the prince says perhaps nobody. The businessman explains that when you find something nobody owns and you say you own it, it is yours. Now that they are in his possession, he counts them over and over again; it is hard but he is very serious.
The prince gravely tells the man he owns one flower and three volcanoes, which makes him useful to them. He sternly tells the man that he is not useful to his stars, and after the man finds nothing to say, the prince departs.
The fifth planet is extremely small and only has a street lamp and a lamplighter. The prince does not understand this but thinks this man is probably less absurd than the king, drunkard, and businessman; his work seems to have meaning because it puts out the lights and brings sleep.
When he walks up to the lamplighter, the prince asks why he does this. The man replies he has orders. He cannot explain why, but they are orders. It is a hard job but it used to be easier; now the planet moves faster and faster and his days are one minute long. The prince chuckles but the man says it is not funny – he and the prince have already been talking for thirty days.
The prince watches the man fondly, marveling at how he diligently he follows orders. He tells the man he has an idea to help him, but the man does not want to do anything but sleep. To the prince, he is the most interesting person he has met thus far because he does not think only of himself. Perhaps they could have been friends, but there is only room for one person on his planet.
The next planet is ten times bigger than the others and inhabited by a geographer with an huge book. The prince compliments the beautiful planet and asks if it has oceans. The geographer replies that he does not know. Perplexed, the boy asks about cities, rivers, and deserts, and finds it odd that the man does not know. The man explains that he is not an explorer and is too important to go wandering around. He writes down what explorers say, and if there is something off about the explorer he conducts an inquiry into his moral character. No one wants an explorer who lies. When the moral character looks good, then people look into the discovery itself.
All of a sudden, the geographer become excited and says the prince must tell him about his planet. The prince comments sadly that it is not too interesting because it is small and he has three volcanoes (two active, one extinct) and one flower. The geographer replies that he does not record flowers because they are ephemeral; geographers record permanent things. The prince keeps asking what the word “ephemeral” means until the man says it is something “threatened by imminent disappearance” (47).
The prince is struck – now he knows his flower is ephemeral and only has four thorns and is all alone. He feels regret, but then asks the man where he ought to go next. The man tells him Earth, because that planet has a good reputation.
The Earth has a great deal of of kings and geographers and businessmen and armies of lamplighters and vain men – two billion grownups, in fact.
The lamplighters work all around the clock but in their different locations on the globe. The lamplighters of the North Pole and the South Pole have the easiest lives because they only work twice a year.
The narrator admits he is trying to be witty, and doesn't want to give a false idea about Earth. Men occupy very little space on it, even though grownups think they take up as much space as baobabs.
The prince is surprised to come here (to the Sahara) and sees no one at first. He meets a snake and the snake tells him this is the desert and there are no people here. The prince sits down sadly and asks if “the stars are lit up so that each of us can find his own, someday” (49), but then muses how far away his planet is.
The snake asks him why he came to Earth and the boy responds that it was because of a flower. They are silent. After a second, the prince says it is lonely here, and the snake says it is lonely with people too. The prince muses that the snake is a funny creature and the snake tells him he is more powerful than the boy knows, but that the prince is innocent and from a star and he feels sorry for him so he will not hurt him. The snake adds that he can help him someday if he needs to get back to his planet. The boy understands his riddle and asks why the snake speaks in them. The snake says he solves them all.
Crossing the desert the prince finds only one flower, a flower with three inconsequential petals. They greet each other and the prince asks where the people are. The flower replies that it has only seen a few some years ago. After all, people have no roots and the wind blows them away. The boy and the flower say goodbye to each other.
The middle portion of the novel consists of the prince visiting other planets and meeting their inhabitants. He quickly comes to realize that most of these inhabitants – all adults, of course – are “very, very strange” (36) and “quite extraordinary” (38). Except for the lamplighter, who impresses him with his commitment to his task and his usefulness, the other people are dull, pedantic, and self-absorbed. The king has to obeyed at all costs so he tailors his commands to the people before him, he reigns over no one, and he cannot actually control the sunsets. The vain man cares only for himself and touts his remarkableness when there is actually no one else to compare him to. The drunkard is a sad mess of a person. The person selling pills to curb thirst is selling something that is ultimately of no use. The armchair scientist/geographer doesn’t actually know anything about the natural world. And the serious man spends his days tediously counting and says he owns the stars, something that is not really possible.
In these chapters, Saint-Exupéry provides moral lessons to his readers. He cautions against the arbitrary use of power and the foolish amassing of wealth and power. He satirizes vanity and counsels authenticity. He suggests that one should be careful of the hold guilt and shame can have on a person, and that means of ameliorating them, such as alcohol, are ultimately unsuccessful. He criticizes academia for academia’s sake with the geographer, and suggests getting out into the world to explore it. Critic Anne Dodd notes that the major theme of the text is, simply, “humanitarianism vs. materialism.” Not only the chapters on the various denizens of the planets bear this out, but also the narrator’s admittedly cheeky way of describing Earth: “It contains one hundred and eleven kings (including, of course, the African kings), seven thousand geographers, nine-hundred thousand businessmen, seven-and-a-half million drunkards, three-hundred-eleven-million vain men; in other words, about two billion grown-ups” (47). He uses numbers to describe the people of Earth in order to hearken back to the prince’s derisive comments about numbers.
It is no wonder the prince is unimpressed with all these individuals, for while none of them seem particularly evil, they represent banality in all of its permutations. Critic Laurence Gagnon notes, “none are living authentically. Worse yet there is little hope that they will change, since they neither take care of things nor care for persons… it is not just physically that they lead isolated lives.”
Of course, it is fair to point out that the prince was also leading an isolated life on his planet. He was tilting to the complete opposite side of the spectrum in the sense that he was too involved, too slavishly devoted to his flower. Gagnon says, in his “conscientiousness he had become a slave to her and she in her vanity and pride encouraged his servitude. This was not good for either of them.”
Saint-Exupéry foreshadows the end of the novel by introducing the snake. The creature is an obvious symbol of the snake in the Garden of Eden, offering speciously attractive promises couched in ambiguous terms. He is a dangerous creature but tells the boy “you’re innocent, and you come from a star… I feel sorry for you, being so weak on this granite earth” (51). What's more, he says “I can help you, someday, if you grow too homesick for your planet” (51). To his credit, the wise little prince recognizes what the snake is suggesting and replies, “Oh, I understand just what you mean… but why do you always speak in riddles?” (51).