Protein kinase GCN2 regulates translation in amino acid-starved cells by phosphorylating elF2. GCN2 contains a regulatory domain related to histidyl-tRNA synthetase (HisRS) postulated to bind multiple deacylated tRNAs as a general sensor of starvation. In accordance with this model, GCN2 bound several deacylated tRNAs with similar affinities, and aminoacylation of tRNAphe weakened its interaction with GCN2. Unexpectedly, the C-terminal ribosome binding segment of GCN2 (C-term) was required in addition to the HisRS domain for strong tRNA binding. A combined HisRS+ C-term segment bound to the isolated protein kinase (PK) domain in vitro, and tRNA impeded this interaction. An activating mutation (GCN2c-E803V) that weakens PK-C-term association greatly enhanced tRNA binding by GCN2. These results provide strong evidence that tRNA stimulates the GCN2 kinase moiety by preventing an inhibitory interaction with the bipartite tRNA binding domain.