Begging displays have been interpreted as honest indicators of offspring need, with variation in begging intensity reflecting variation in offspring internal state. However, recent empirical evidence suggests that offspring frequently adjust their begging in relation to social context and tailor begging to specific individuals or payoff schedules. This suggests that begging intensity is subject to strategic variation not directly linked to current need. Here I investigate pup begging in banded mongooses (Mungos mungo), a communally breeding carnivore where most pup care occurs in exclusive pup-helper pairs (termed the "escort" system). Natural observations reveal that pups associating with a helper who is not their usual escort reduce their begging rate and receive less food for a given begging rate. Using experimental escort removals, I demonstrate that even when there is a measurable increase in short-term need, pups associating with a helper who is not their usual escort beg at a lower rate and receive less food for a given begging rate. This strongly suggests that they reduce their begging rate in response to the reduction in feeding rate by their temporary helpers. I argue that variations in begging intensity not only may reflect variation in internal state but also may frequently reflect variation in an offspring's motivation to beg based on context-dependent changes in the payoffs of begging.