T cells are the key mediators in cell-mediated immunity. Their development and maturation involve a complex variety of interactions with nonlymphoid cell products and receptors. Highly specialized to defend against bacterial and viral infections, T cells also mediate immune surveillance against tumor cells and react to foreign tissues. T cell progenitors originate in the bone marrow and, through a series of defined and coordinated developmental stages, enter the thymus, differentiate, undergo selection, and eventually mature into functional T cells. The steps in this process are regulated through a complex transcriptional network, specific receptor-ligand pair interactions, and sensitization to trophic factors, which mediate the homing, proliferation, survival, and differentiation of developing T cells. This review examines the processes and pathways involved in the highly orchestrated development of T cell fate specification under physiological as well as pathological conditions.