Although enthusiasm for measuring health-related quality of life (HRQL) in clinical trials exists, information is limited on the meaning of scores. We examined the relation between scores from the 34-item Medical Outcomes Study HIV Health Survey (MOS-HIV) and the more detailed HIV Overview of Problems-Evaluation System (HOPES) using the responses of 318 HIV-infected outpatients being treated in Los Angeles and Baltimore. With the HOPES problem statements as independent variables, statistically significant predictors of the variation in MOS-HIV scores for the Physical Function, Mental Health, and Energy/Fatigue scales were identified using stepwise regression. Approximately 60% to 70% of the variation in each of the scores was explained by five to seven different HOPES problem statements, with a single item explaining 47% to 59% of the variation. We created illustrative profiles for each of the three MOS-HIV scales using the HOPES items identified in the regressions. Independent of the scale, persons scoring in the top MOS-HIV quartile tended to report few if any problems, whereas a decline in score to the next quartile was characterized by functional difficulties (e.g., "HIV interferes with work"). The onset of specific problems might trigger further evaluation and potential intervention from health care providers to help maintain patient functioning.