Understanding the interaction between carbon nanotubes (CNTs) and biomolecules is essential to the CNT-based nanotechnology and biotechnology. Some recent experiments have suggested that the - stacking interactions between proteins aromatic residues and CNTs might play a key role in their binding, which raises interest in large scale modeling of protein-CNT complexes and associated - interactions at atomic detail. However, there is concern on the accuracy of classical fixed-charge molecular force fields due to their classical treatments and lack of polarizability. Here, we study the binding of three aromatic residue analogues (mimicking phenylalanine, tyrosine, and tryptophan) and benzene to a single-walled CNT, and compare the molecular mechanical (MM) calculations using three popular fixed-charge force fields (OPLSAA, AMBER, and CHARMM), with quantum mechanical (QM) calculations using the density-functional tight-binding method with the inclusion of dispersion correction (DFTB-D). Two typical configurations commonly found in - interactions are used, one with the aromatic rings parallel to the CNT surface (flat), and the other perpendicular (edge). Our calculations reveal that compared to the QM results the MM approaches can appropriately reproduce the strength of - interactions for both configurations, and more importantly, the energy difference between them, indicating that the various contributions to - interactions have been implicitly included in the van der Waals parameters of the standard MM force fields. Meanwhile, these MM models are less accurate in predicting the exact structural binding patterns (matching surface), meaning there are still rooms to be improved. In addition, we have provided a comprehensive and reliable QM picture for the - interactions of aromatic molecules with CNTs in gas phase, which might be used as a benchmark for future force field developments. © 2012 American Institute of Physics.