METIS, the Mid-infrared ELT Imager and Spectrograph (formerly called MIDIR), is a proposed instrument for the European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT), currently undergoing a phase-A study. The study is carried out within the framework of the ESO-sponsored E-ELT instrumentation studies. METIS will be designed to cover the E-ELT science needs at wavelengths longward of 3μm, where the thermal background requires different operating schemes. In this paper we discuss the main science drivers from which the instrument baseline has been derived. Specific emphasis has been given to observations that require very high spatial and spectral resolution, which can only be achieved with a ground-based ELT. We also discuss the challenging aspects of background suppression techniques, adaptive optics in the mid-IR, and telescope site considerations. The METIS instrument baseline includes imaging and spectroscopy at the atmospheric L, M, and N bands with a possible extension to Q band imaging. Both coronagraphy and polarimetry are also being considered. However, we note that the concept is still not yet fully consolidated. The METIS studies are being performed by an international consortium with institutes from the Netherlands, Germany, France, United Kingdom, and Belgium.