The famous short story "A Clean, Well-Lighted Place" by Ernest Hemingway tells of an old man who sits late at a cafe drinking brandy and the two waiters who serve him. One of the waiters is young and impatient to get home to his wife. The other waiter is older and sympathizes with the old man in his loneliness. The story is told in Hemingway's minimalist style, in which much is implied but not directly stated. We don't know the names of the characters, for instance, or their backgrounds.
Some clues throughout the story help us understand the significance of the title. In the beginning, when the waiters are talking together, we learn that the old man tried to kill himself in despair. When one waiter asks why, the other says it was over nothing. Later, after the old man has left, the older waiter parodies the "Our Father" prayer by substituting "nothing" for most of the words.
The old man once had a wife but doesn't have one anymore. Apart from his loneliness, he probably feels useless, and he is coming close to the great darkness of death. He comes to the cafe to feel less lonely and to keep the darkness away, at least temporarily. It is important for the place to be clean and well-lit because this gives him a feeling of security, safety, and dignity. The cleanliness and light defend him from the nothingness, darkness, and despair of life. The old waiter shares the problem that the old man faces. He doesn't like the bar that he stops at because it is not clean, and he is unable to sleep because he fears the darkness. He is only able to fall asleep when the light of dawn comes.
In conclusion, the clean, well-lighted place symbolizes the security, safety, and dignity that the old man needs to keep away the darkness, despair, and nothingness that he would otherwise feel.