The top U.S. and Soviet generals in Germany met Friday to discuss the killing of a U.S. Army officer by a Soviet sentry last month and ways to avoid such conflicts in the future, the State Department said yesterday.

The meeting of Gen. Glenn Otis, commander of the U.S. Army in Europe, and Gen. Mikhail Zaitzev, commander of Soviet forces in Germany, took place partly in a U.S. facility and partly in a Soviet facility in East Germany near Potsdam, according to State Department officials.

Department spokesman Bernard Kalb, who disclosed that the meeting had been held, said that additional "discussion sessions" are expected soon.

Other officials said that the United States considers clarification of what happened to Maj. Arthur D. Nicholson Jr., who was killed by a Soviet sentry in East Germany March 24, to be the first step toward an improved relationship between U.S. and Soviet military forces pursuing long-established inspection duties in each other's area of divided Germany.

A meeting of Secretary of State George P. Shultz and Soviet Ambassador Anatoliy Dobrynin March 30 set the stage for Friday's conference. Despite administration agreement in principle to the military meeting, it took until early last week for official instructions to be sent to Otis to seek the session.

As transmitted to Otis, the instructions did not insist on an apology for Nicholson's killing in advance of the meeting, as had been proposed by Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger, officials said.

U.S. sources said that even after the Otis-Zaitzev meeting they have no information to confirm reports in Germany last week that the Soviet sentry who shot Nicholson faces a court-martial.

In a related development, Aviation Week & Space Technology magazine reported that President Reagan had planned to invite the Soviets last month to participate in a joint space mission, but decided against it after Nicholson was killed.