Sensory cues that precede reward acquire predictive (expected value) and incentive (drive reward-seeking action) properties. Mesolimbic dopamine neurons’ responses to sensory cues correlate with both expected value and reward-seeking action. This has led to the proposal that phasic dopamine responses may be sufficient to inform value-based decisions, elicit actions, and/or induce motivational states; however, causal tests are incomplete. Here, we show that direct dopamine neuron stimulation, both calibrated to physiological and greater intensities, at the time of reward can be sufficient to induce and maintain reward-seeking (reinforcing) while replacement of a cue with stimulation is insufficient to induce reward-seeking or act as an informative cue. Stimulation of descending cortical inputs, one synapse upstream, are sufficient for reinforcement and cues to future reward. Thus, physiological activation of mesolimbic dopamine neurons can be sufficient for reinforcing properties of reward without being sufficient for the predictive and incentive properties of cues.