"Live While We're Young" was written by Rami Yacoub, Carl Falk, and Savan Kotecha, and was produced by Yacoub and Falk. The trio had collaboratively helmed One Direction's previous hits, "What Makes You Beautiful" and "One Thing". In early 2012, the group confirmed a follow-up release for their debut album, Up All Night (2011), was in development. "In the summer, we’re going to get back and start a new record. We want to bring out a record nearly every year, every year and a half," member Niall Horan said, revealing they were arranging "meetings and stuff with different writers and producers." The band began recording the album in May 2012, in Stockholm, Sweden, at Kinglet Studios—"Live While We're Young" is a result of those recording sessions. In June 2012, Horan spoke to MTV News, elaborating that the lead single would probably be released in September 2012.
Robert Copsey of Digital Spy gave "Live While We're Young" four out of five stars and wrote, "it's little different from what we've heard before — but when you're the world's biggest boyband, it's no bad thing." Mikael Wood of the Los Angeles Times summarised it as a "characteristically peppy piece of high-gloss party pop." Lansky praised its effectiveness and thought it was "perfectly tailored to top the charts." Andrew Unterberger of Popdust acknowledged that "the song is smart to swipe the guitar-only opening pattern from The Clash's "Should I Stay or Should I Go?"—akin to "What Makes You Beautiful" lifting the "Summer Nights" beginning—calling on pop history to get you excited for the song before you even really realise why." Unterberger further highlighted the small lyrical plays for conveying "an incredible amount of urgency and fun without much clunky verbage [sic], making singing along something of an inevitability." A writer for The Huffington Post asserted that the song delivers for fans of their debut album: "a poppy, energetic, happy-go-lucky track." 
"Live While We're Young" debuted on the Irish Singles Chart at number one on 4 October 2012, becoming One Direction's fourth top ten appearance and their second chart-topper in Ireland. In the United Kingdom, the single became One Direction's fourth UK Singles Chart top ten hit in twelve months, entering at number three on 7 October 2012.Elsewhere in Europe, the song became a top ten hit in Austria, Belgium (Flanders), Czech Republic, Denmark, Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, and Switzerland. It was certified gold by both the Federation of the Italian Music Industry (FIMI) and IFPI Denmark, denoting collective shipments of 30,000.