The hydration thermodynamics of the amino acid X relative to the reference G (glycine) or the hydration thermodynamics of a small-molecule analog of the side chain of X is often used to model the contribution of X to protein stability and solution thermodynamics. We consider the reasons for successes and limitations of this approach by calculating and comparing the conditional excess free energy, enthalpy, and entropy of hydration of the isoleucine side chain in zwitterionic isoleucine, in extended penta-peptides, and in helical deca-peptides. Butane in gauche conformation serves as a small-molecule analog for the isoleucine side chain. Parsing the hydrophobic and hydrophilic contributions to hydration for the side chain shows that both of these aspects of hydration are context-sensitive. Furthermore, analyzing the solute-solvent interaction contribution to the conditional excess enthalpy of the side chain shows that what is nominally considered a property of the side chain includes entirely nonobvious contributions of the background. The context-sensitivity of hydrophobic and hydrophilic hydration and the conflation of background contributions with energetics attributed to the side chain limit the ability of a single scaling factor, such as the fractional solvent exposure of the group in the protein, to map the component energetic contributions of the model-compound data to their value in the protein. But ignoring the origin of cancellations in the underlying components the group-transfer model may appear to provide a reasonable estimate of the free energy for a given error tolerance. © 2014 American Chemical Society.