Our views regarding the origins and functions of splenic marginal zone B cells have changed considerably over the past few years. Perspectives regarding the development and function of these cells vary considerably between investigators studying human and rodent immunology. Marginal zone B cells are now recognized to constitute a distinct naive B lymphoid lineage. Considerable progress has been made regarding the mechanisms involved in marginal zone B cell development in the mouse. Many of the molecular events that participate in the retention of this lineage of B cells in the marginal zone have been identified. Here, we discuss the functions of these cells in both innate and adaptive immunity. We also attempt to reconcile differing viewpoints regarding the generation and function of marginal zone B cells in rodents and primates.