Aerosol–cloud interactions are central to climate system changes and depend on meteorological conditions. This study identifies distinct thermodynamic regimes and proposes a conceptual framework for interpreting aerosol effects. In the analysis, ten years (2003–2012) of daily satellite-derived aerosol and cloud products are combined with reanalysis data to identify factors controlling Southeast Atlantic stratocumulus microphysics. Considering the seasonal influence of aerosol input from biomass burning, thermodynamic environments that feature contrasting microphysical cloud properties and aerosol–cloud relations are classified. While aerosol impact is stronger in unstable environments, it is mostly confined to situations with low aerosol loading (aerosol index AI ≲ 0.15), implying a saturation of aerosol effects. Situations with high aerosol loading are associated with weaker, seasonally contrasting aerosol-droplet size relationships, likely caused by thermodynamically induced processes and aerosol swelling.