Why Does Jem Invite Walter to Dinner?

In Harper Lee's "To Kill a Mockingbird," Jem invites his younger sister's classmate, Walter, to dinner because the older boy is caring and bighearted. Knowing that Walter's family is extremely poor, Jem makes the suggestion that Walter come to their house. This provides a meal that the boy otherwise would not have.

Jem's invitation comes after he sees his sister, Scout, beating Walter and learns what provoked her anger. Scout and Walter's new teacher had offered to loan the young boy money for lunch, unaware that Walter would not be able to repay the debt. Humiliated by the unwanted attention, Walter did not reply to his teacher's proposition. Trying to be helpful, Scout attempted to explain the economic conditions of Walter's family, but she got into trouble for interfering. She later takes her frustration out on Walter using her fists.

When Jem understands the situation, he explains away Scout's actions to Walter by informing him that she is "crazy." Jem also makes the invitation to lunch more of a social occasion by telling Walter that their fathers are friends. The older boy recognizes that the younger boy is unwilling to accept charity. However, a mealtime visit based on camaraderie rather than charity is acceptable. Therefore, Walter is free to accompany Jem and Scout home for the midday meal.