Natural killer (NK) cells have originally been identified based on their capacity to kill transformed cells in a seemingly non-specific fashion. Over the last 15 years, knowledge on receptor ligand systems used by NK cells to specifically detect transformed cells has been accumulating rapidly. One of these receptor ligand systems, the NKG2D pathway, has received particular attention, and now serves as a paradigm for how the immune system is able to gather information about the health status of autologous host cells. In addition to its significance on NK cells, NKG2D, as well as other NK cell receptors, play significant roles on T cells. This review aims at summarizing recent insights into the regulation of NKG2D function, the control over NKG2D ligand expression and the role of NKG2D in tumor immunity. Finally, we will discuss first attempts to exploit NKG2D function to improve immunity to tumors.