The cancer-testis antigen NY-ESO-1 is one of the most promising candidates for generic vaccination of cancer patients. Here we analyzed the CD8(+) T cell response to a NY-ESO-1 peptide vaccine composed of the two previously defined peptides 157-165 and 157-167, administered with GM-CSF as a systemic adjuvant. The NY-ESO-1 peptide vaccine elicited a CD8(+) T cell response directed against multiple distinct epitopes in the 157-167 region, as revealed by using A2/peptide multimers incorporating overlapping A2 binding peptides in this region. However, only a minor fraction of the elicited CD8(+) T cells, namely those recognizing the peptide 157-165 with sufficiently high functional avidity, recognized the naturally processed target on NY-ESO-1(+) tumor cells. In contrast, the majority of peptide 157-165-specific CD8(+) T cells exhibited lower functional avidity and no tumor reactivity. In addition, vaccine-elicited CD8(+) T cells specific for other overlapping epitopes in the 157-167 region failed to significantly recognize NY-ESO-1-expressing tumor targets. Thus, because of the complexity of the CD8(+) T cell repertoire that can be elicited by vaccination with synthetic peptides, a precise definition of the targeted epitope, and hence, of the corresponding peptide to be used as immunogen, is required to ensure a precise tumor targeting.