Formation of self-assembled chains of tetrathiafulvalene (TTF) on the Cu(100) surface has been investigated by scanning tunneling microscopy and density functional theory calculations that include semiempirical van der Waals (vdW) interaction corrections. The calculations show that the chain structures observed in the experiments can only be explained by including the vdW interactions. The molecules are tilted along the chain in order to achieve maximal intermolecular interaction. The chains are metastable on the surface, which is consistent with the experimental observation that they disappear after annealing. The fact that all TTF chains observed in the experiment are short might be possibly explained by the interplay between the stabilizing vdW molecule-molecule interaction and the destabilizing rearrangement of surface atoms due to the strong molecule-substrate interaction.