Perforin-mediated cytotoxicity is important for controlling viral infections, but also for limiting immune reactions. Failure of this cytotoxic pathway leads to hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis (HLH), a life-threatening disorder of uncontrolled T-cell and macrophage activation. We studied susceptibility to HLH in 2 mouse strains (souris and beige(J)) and a cohort of patients with partial defects in perforin secretion resulting from different mutations in the LYST gene. Although both strains lacked NK-cell cytotoxicity, only souris mice developed all clinical and histopathologic signs of HLH after infection with lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus. The 2 strains showed subtle differences in CTL cytotoxicity in vitro that had a large impact on virus control in vivo. Whereas beige(J) CTLs eliminated lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus infection, souris CTLs failed to control the virus, which was associated with the development of HLH. In LYST-mutant patients with Chediak-Higashi syndrome, CTL cytotoxicity was reduced in patients with early-onset HLH, whereas it was retained in patients who later or never developed HLH. Thus, the risk of HLH development is set by a threshold that is determined by subtle differences in CTL cytotoxicity. Differences in the cytotoxic capacity of CTLs may be predictive for the risk of Chediak-Higashi syndrome patients to develop HLH.