We make a phenomenological model of optical two-beam interaction in a model planar liquid crystal cell. The liquid crystal is subject to homeotropic anchoring at the cell walls, is surrounded by thin photosensitive layers, and is subject to a variable potential across the cell. These systems are often known as liquid crystal photorefractive systems. The interference between the two obliquely incident beams causes a time-independent periodic modulation in electric field intensity in the direction transverse to the cell normal. Our model includes this field phenomenologically by supposing an effect on the electric potential at the cell walls. The transverse periodic surface potential causes spatially periodic departures from a pure homeotropic texture. The texture modulation acts as a grating for the incident light. The incident light is both directly transmitted and also subject to diffraction. The lowest order diffracted beams correspond to energy exchange between the beams. We find that the degree of energy exchange can be strongly sensitive to the mean angle of incidence, the angle between the beams, and the imposed potential across the cell. We use the model to speculate about what factors optimize nonlinear optical interaction in liquid crystalline photorefractive systems.