Stem cells maintain populations of highly differentiated, short-lived cell-types, including blood, skin and sperm, throughout adult life. Understanding the mechanisms that regulate stem cell behaviour is crucial for realizing their potential in regenerative medicine. A fundamental characteristic of stem cells is their capacity for asymmetric division: daughter cells either retain stem cell identity or initiate differentiation. However, stem cells are also capable of symmetric division where both daughters remain stem cells, indicating that mechanisms must exist to balance self-renewal capacity with differentiation. Here we present evidence that support cells surrounding the stem cells restrict self-renewal and control stem cell number by ensuring asymmetric division. Loss of function of the Drosophila Epidermal growth factor receptor in somatic cells disrupted the balance of self-renewal versus differentiation in the male germline, increasing the number of germline stem cells. We propose that activation of this receptor specifies normal behaviour of somatic support cells; in turn, the somatic cells play a guardian role, providing information that prevents self-renewal of stem cell identity by the germ cell they enclose.