We report comprehensive atomic force microscopy (AFM) measurements at room temperature of the nanoscale topography and lateral friction on the surface of thin solid films of an intermediate-length normal alkane, dotriacontane (n-C32H66), adsorbed onto a SiO2 surface. Our topographic and frictional images, recorded simultaneously in the contact mode, reveal a multilayer structure in which one to two layers of molecules adsorb adjacent to the SiO2 surface oriented with their long axis parallel to the interface followed by partial layers of molecules oriented perpendicular to the surface. The thicknesses of the parallel and perpendicular layers that we measured with the AFM agree with those inferred from previous x-ray specular reflectivity measurements on similarly prepared samples. We also observe bulk dotriacontane particles and, in contrast with our previous measurements, are able to determine their location. Above a minimum size, the bulk particles are separated from islands of perpendicularly oriented molecules by regions of exposed parallel layers that most likely extend underneath the particles. We find that the lateral friction is sensitive to the molecular orientation in the underlying crystalline film and can be used effectively with topographic measurements to resolve uncertainties in the film structure. We measure the same lateral friction on top of the bulk particles as on the perpendicular layers, a value that is about 2.5 times smaller than on a parallel layer. Scans on top of parallel layers indicate a constant height but reveal domains having different sublevels of friction. We explain this by the domains having different azimuthal orientations of the molecules. (c) 2005 American Institute of Physics.