Opie is a motherless 6 year old when the series opens and lives in the fictional and idealized small, sleepy southern community of Mayberry, North Carolina with his single father, Andy Taylor (Andy Griffith), the sheriff of Mayberry County, and his father's spinster aunt, Beatrice "Aunt Bee" Taylor (Frances Bavier). Opie appears once in The Andy Griffith Show spinoff Mayberry R.F.D. and also in the 1986 reunion telemovie Return to Mayberry. The character is portrayed by Ron Howard.
Andy would sometimes misjudge Opie, suspecting him of being selfish and oblivious to the needs of the less fortunate. Andy would then discover to his chagrin that Opie had been self-sacrificing and generous. For example, in one episode, Opie forfeits a grocery store delivery job to allow a boy with an ill father to replace him. In another episode, Opie uses his savings to buy a friend a winter coat after his father lambastes him for contributing only three cents to a charity.
When not visiting his father at the courthouse, Opie would sometimes get into jams. Some of his juvenile misdeeds include: trespassing in a neighbor's barn, selling Miracle Salve to the citizens of Mayberry; accidentally destroying Aunt Bee's prize rose; concealing an abandoned baby in his clubhouse; tricking Goober into thinking a shaggy dog can speak, and starting his own tell-all community newspaper.
Opie's best friend through the series' run is Johnny Paul Jason. He also has several other friends during his childhood including Howie Pruitt. In one episode, Opie's new friend Trey Bowden provokes Opie's jealousy when Andy takes a liking to Trey and invites him along on outings. Other new friends sometimes prove unworthy. One friend, for instance, encourages Opie to throw tantrums at home to get his way.
In another episode, Opie joins a secret club and is made keeper of the club's special candle. The club trespasses in a farmer's barn and, when the barn later burns to the ground, Opie is blamed. In the color episodes, Opie's best friend is a boy named Arnold Bailey but in one color episode, Opie hooks up with a boy that plays a mean trick on Goober. Both boys are taken to task by Andy for their mischief making. Opie is respectful and friendly to adults in Mayberry. He spends time at the filling station hanging out with Goober and the two often share their comic books.
Opie has several girl friends including, in his boyhood, Karen Burgess (Ronda Jeter) and, in his teens, Mary Alice Carter (Morgan Brittany credited as Suzanne Cupito). He also develops crushes on Barney's sweetheart Thelma Lou and on his father's lover Helen Crump, inappropriately buying Helen a pair of stockings at the local ladies wear shop.
During his teens, Opie has a few jobs around Mayberry. He works in the drug store as a soda jerk, and, in another episode, works as a delivery boy at the grocery store. He also plays in a rock band with his friends and has a paying gig at a teen party. In a later color episode, Opie makes college plans with dentistry as his career choice.
In the 1986 made-for-TV reunion movie Return to Mayberry, Ron Howard reprised his role as a now-adult Opie. The plot was driven by his father's return to see Opie's wife give birth to their first child.