TLS and its predecessor SSL make significant use of certificate authorities. Once your browser requests a secure page and adds the "s" onto "http," the browser sends out the public key and the certificate, checking three things: 1) that the certificate comes from a trusted party; 2) that the certificate is currently valid; and 3) that the certificate has a relationship with the site from which it's coming.
The browser then uses the public key to encrypt a randomly selected symmetric key. Public-key encryption takes a lot of computing, so most systems use a combination of public-key and symmetric key encryption. When two computers initiate a secure session, one computer creates a symmetric key and sends it to the other computer using public-key encryption. The two computers can then communicate using symmetric-key encryption. Once the session is finished, each computer discards the symmetric key used for that session. Any additional sessions require that a new symmetric key be created, and the process is repeated.