This article is a review of the fundamental chemistry of the tocopherols and tocotrienols relevant to their antioxidant action. Despite the general agreement that alpha-tocopherol is the most efficient antioxidant and vitamin E homologue in vivo, there was always a considerable discrepancy in its "absolute" and "relative" antioxidant effectiveness in vitro, especially when compared to gamma-tocopherol. Many chemical, physical, biochemical, physicochemical, and other factors seem responsible for the observed discrepancy between the relative antioxidant potencies of the tocopherols in vivo and in vitro. This paper aims at highlighting some possible reasons for the observed differences between the tocopherols (alpha-, beta-, gamma-, and delta-) in relation to their interactions with the important chemical species involved in lipid peroxidation, specifically trace metal ions, singlet oxygen, nitrogen oxides, and antioxidant synergists. Although literature reports related to the chemistry of the tocotrienols are quite meager, they also were included in the discussion in virtue of their structural and functional resemblance to the tocopherols.