The purpose of this study was to clarify the relationship between the number of tumour-infiltrating T lymphocytes and the clinicopathological features and clinical outcome in patients with non-small-cell lung cancer (NSCLC). Tissue specimens from 109 patients who underwent surgical resection for NSCLC were immunohistochemically analysed for CD4 and CD8 expression. Patients were classified into two groups according to whether their tumours exhibited a 'high' or 'low' level of CD8(+) or CD4(+) lymphocyte infiltration. Although the level of infiltration by CD8(+) T cells alone had no prognostic significance, the survival rate for patients with both 'high' CD8(+) and 'high' CD4(+) T-cell infiltration was significantly higher than that for the other groups (log-rank test, P=0.006). Multivariate analysis indicated that concomitant high CD8(+) and high CD4(+) T-cell infiltration was an independent favourable prognostic factor (P=0.0092). In conclusion, the presence of high levels of both CD8(+) T cells and CD4(+) T cells is a significant indicator of a better prognosis for patients with NSCLC, and cooperation between these cell populations may allow a significantly more potent antitumour response than either population alone.