To understand the title of the short story "Hills Like White Elephants" by Ernest Hemingway, it is important to isolate the central conflict in the story. A man and a woman are waiting for a train at an isolated station in the Ebro Valley in Spain. They have a series of drinks and talk together, and it soon becomes obvious that they are arguing.
This story is told in Hemingway's sparse style. He referred to it as the "iceberg" method of writing, which posited that a story would be strengthened if only a small portion is above the surface, and much that is important is implied but unstated. In "Hills Like White Elephants," the couple is on their way to Madrid so that the woman can get an abortion. She remains unsure about whether it is the right thing to do, and the man is trying to convince her to go through with it. Despite this being the central conflict of the story, Hemingway never mentions the word "abortion" and alludes to it only indirectly.
The man argues that the abortion is a simple procedure "just to let the air in," although in those days it was illegal and not at all as simple as he claims. It is obvious that he is making light of it so that the woman will agree to go through with it. The woman, on the other hand, is unsure about what she wants to do. She is concerned that things will not go back to normal for them afterwards either way. Her remark about the hills being like white elephants is a reflection of this.
She first alludes to the hills being like white elephants as a simple comparison while they are sipping their drinks, but even this remark stirs up a disagreement between them about whether or not the man has ever seen an elephant. As they continue to talk, their argument becomes more heated, and it becomes obvious that it is about the proposed abortion. When she says, "If I do it, then it will be nice again if I say things are like white elephants, and you'll like it," what she is doing is asking for a confirmation that if she goes through with the abortion, then things will return to the way they were between them. The "hills like white elephants," of the title, then, stands for the fanciful life that they had before she got pregnant, that she hopes that they can go back to but somehow realizes that they probably never will.