Interleukin (IL)-2 is currently used to enhance T-cell immunity but can have both positive and negative effects on T cells. To determine whether these opposing results are due to IL-2 acting differently on T cells depending on their stage of differentiation, we examined the effects of IL-2 therapy during the expansion, contraction and memory phases of the T-cell response in lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus (LCMV)-infected mice. IL-2 treatment during the expansion phase was detrimental to the survival of rapidly dividing effector T cells. In contrast, IL-2 therapy was highly beneficial during the death phase, resulting in increased proliferation and survival of virus-specific T cells. IL-2 treatment also increased proliferation of resting memory T cells in mice that controlled the infection. Virus-specific T cells in chronically infected mice also responded to IL-2 resulting in decreased viral burden. Thus, timing of IL-2 administration and differentiation status of the T cell are critical parameters in designing IL-2 therapies.