Adaptors are molecular scaffolds that recruit effectors, which are critical for immune cell activation. Recent work has underscored the requirement for adaptors in propagating stimulatory signals as well as their ability to inhibit immune cell function. The mechanisms by which adaptors function rely not only on the intermolecular interactions they mediate, but also on where they are localized within the cell. The use of sophisticated genetic, biochemical, cellular and imaging approaches has provided important new insights into the biology of adaptor protein function. Here we focus on T lymphocytes as a model to illustrate the critical roles adaptors play as regulators of cellular activation.