Bush told Jenna Bush-Hager, a correspondent for NBC's "Today," he had a "terrible feeling, awful feeling" after his loss to Democrat Bill Clinton.
"I really wanted to win and worked hard. Later on, people said, 'Well, he didn't really care,' which is crazy. I worked my heart out," Bush said.
Bush turned 88 Tuesday. He and other members of the family are gathered at their summer compound in Kennebunkport, Maine. The family visited the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush, which is on the Maine coast.
"Imagine a great big thing like this named after me," Bush said of his namesake. "I mean it's a thrill, a real thrill, to be out here."
Bush said he does not worry about how he will appear in history books.
"I want somebody else to define the legacy,'' he said. "I've kind of banned the use of the 'L' word. I think history will point out the things I did wrong and perhaps some of the things we did right."
But Bush said he is proud that his White House portrait hangs next to that of his son, President George W. Bush: "Two presidents in one family, that's pretty good. We're both lucky to have served. He had two terms as president and did a great job. I'm proud to be next to your dad there, very proud.''