Living in permanent social groups forces animals to make decisions about when, how and with whom to interact, requiring decisions to be made that integrate multiple sources of information. Changing social environments can influence this decision-making process by constraining choice or altering the likelihood of a positive outcome. Here, we conceptualized grooming as a choice situation where an individual chooses one of a number of potential partners. Studying two wild populations of sympatric primate species, sooty mangabeys (Cercocebus atys atys) and western chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes verus), we tested what properties of potential partners influenced grooming decisions, including their relative value based on available alternatives and the social relationships of potential partners with bystanders who could observe the outcome of the decision. Across 1529 decision events, multiple partner attributes (e.g. dominance ranks, social relationship quality, reproductive state, partner sex) influenced choice. Individuals preferred to initiate grooming with partners of similar global rank, but this effect was driven by a bias towards partners with a high rank compared to other locally available options. Individuals also avoided grooming partners who had strong social relationships with at least one bystander. Results indicated flexible decision-making in grooming interactions in both species, based on a partner’s value given the local social environment. Viewing partner choice as a value-based decision-making process allows researchers to compare how different species solve similar social problems. © 2018 The Authors.