For territorial organisms, recognition of familiar individuals can reduce the frequency and intensity of aggressive encounters (‘dear enemy’ phenomenon), stabilize social systems, and reduce the cost of territory maintenance. Here, we investigated the behavioural events displayed during contests between familiar and unfamiliar individuals in the lizard Liolaemus tenuis (Liolaemidae), a species in which males are territorial. The behaviours recorded were attack, warning, evasion, and submission, and the latencies to the first aggressive (attack or warning) behaviour. Additionally, we assessed the ability of individuals to remember a familiar conspecific after a period without social interaction. Individual males reduced and delayed aggressive behaviour directed towards socially familiar individuals compared with unfamiliar ones. These results suggest that males distinguished between familiar and unfamiliar conspecific males and are in agreement with the ‘dear enemy’ phenomenon. Other behaviours were similar in the contests between familiar and unfamiliar individuals. Recognition of familiar conspecifics was lost after 20 d without social interactions. This may be relevant for interactions with floater males or with neighbours that lose their territory and subsequently attempt to fight for their ex-neighbour's territory.