An essential component of skill acquisition is learning the environmental conditions in which that skill is relevant. This article proposes and tests a neurobiologically detailed theory of howsuch learning ismediated. The theory assumes that a key component of this learning is provided by the cholinergic interneurons in the striatum known as tonically active neurons (TANs). The TANs are assumed to exert a tonic inhibitory influence over cortical inputs to the striatum that prevents the execution of any striatal-dependent actions. The TANs learn to pause in rewarding environments, and this pause releases the striatal output neurons fromthis inhibitory effect, thereby facilitating the learning and expression of striataldependent behaviors. When rewards are no longer available, the TANs cease to pause, which protects striatal learning from decay. A computational version of this theory accounts for a variety of single-cell recording data and some classic behavioral phenomena, including fast reacquisition after extinction.