Growing evidence suggests that cytoplasmic actin filaments are essential factors in the modulation of nuclear shape and function. However, the mechanistic understanding of the internal orchestration between cell and nuclear shape is still lacking. Here we show that orientation and deformation of the nucleus are regulated by lateral compressive forces driven by tension in central actomyosin fibres. By using a combination of micro-manipulation tools, our study reveals that tension in central stress fibres is gradually generated by anisotropic force contraction dipoles, which expand as the cell elongates and spreads. Our findings indicate that large-scale cell shape changes induce a drastic condensation of chromatin and dramatically affect cell proliferation. On the basis of these findings, we propose a simple mechanical model that quantitatively accounts for our experimental data and provides a conceptual framework for the mechanistic coordination between cell and nuclear shape.