Franz and McCandless met in Salton City, California in 1992. Franz, who had lost his family in an automobile accident many years before, had unofficially adopted and cared for many orphaned or troubled youth in the past. Chris, who was living under a tarp in the desert, seemed like another lost soul for Franz to care for.
The two developed a father-son bond of sorts, but one that was not without its problems. In a way, the two men were emotionally damaged in complementary ways. Franz never fully got over the sudden death of his wife and child; his need to care for others was both an expression of his Christian faith and an attempt to fill a deep emotional hole. McCandless, for his part, loathed his father, in part because he had mislead Chris and his family about his "other" family, with his first wife, Marcia. Franz's honesty and empathy were a balm of sorts for Chris, who seemed to need a father figure he could trust.
The intimacy between the two men had drawbacks for each, however. Chris was wary of forming a bond with Franz, even while he accepting Franz's help. Chris realized that any connection he had with Franz would restrict his freedom, which is why he answered evasively when Franz asked if he could formally adopt him. For Franz, Chris's unwillingness to commit to their relationship was a bitter blow. While he understood Chris's desire to move on, his need to care for Chris could only be met with disappointment when Chris finally left for good.