Background and purpose — Quantitative T2 mapping MRI of cartilage has proven value for the assessment of early osteoarthritis changes in research. We evaluated knee cartilage T2 relaxation times in a clinical population with knee complaints and its association with patients and disease characteristics and clinical symptoms. Patients and methods — In this cross-sectional study, T2 mapping knee scans of 109 patients with knee pain who were referred for an MRI by an orthopedic surgeon were collected. T2 relaxation times were calculated in 6 femoral and tibial regions of interest of full-thickness tibiofemoral cartilage. Its associations with age, sex, BMI, duration of complaints, disease onset (acute/chronic), and clinical symptoms were assessed with multivariate regression analysis. Subgroups were created of patients with abnormalities expected to cause predominantly medial or lateral tibiofemoral cartilage changes. Results — T2 relaxation times increased statistically significantly with higher age and BMI. In patients with expected medial cartilage damage, the medial femoral T2 values were significantly higher than the lateral; in patients with expected lateral cartilage damage the lateral tibial T2 values were significantly higher. A traumatic onset of knee complaints was associated with an acute elevation. No significant association was found with clinical symptoms. Interpretation — Our study demonstrates age, BMI, and type of injury-dependent T2 relaxation times and emphasizes the importance of acknowledging these variations when performing T2 mapping in a clinical population.