Conserved molecular patterns derived from pathogenic microorganisms prime antigen-presenting dendritic cells (DC) to induce adaptive T cell responses. In contrast, virus-infected or tumor cells that express low levels of major histocompatibility complex (MHC) class I activate natural killer (NK) cells for direct killing. It is unknown whether NK cell recognition of MHC class I(low) targets can also induce adaptive T cell responses. Here, we show that MHC class I(low) targets initiate a cascade of immune responses, starting with the immediate activation of NK cells. The activated NK cells then prime DC to produce IL-12 and to induce highly protective CD8 T cell memory responses. Therefore, sensing of MHC class I(low) targets by NK cells can link innate and adaptive immunity to induce protective T cell responses and may alarm the immune system during early infection with noncytopathic viruses.