Natural killer T (NKT) cells play an important role in mounting protective responses to blood-borne infections. However, though the spleen is the largest blood filter in the body, the distribution and dynamics of NKT cells within this organ are not well characterized. Here we show that the majority of NKT cells patrol around the marginal zone (MZ) and red pulp (RP) of the spleen. In response to lipid antigen, these NKT cells become arrested and rapidly produce cytokines, while the small proportion of NKT cells located in the white pulp (WP) exhibit limited activation. Importantly, disruption of the splenic MZ by chemical or genetic approaches results in a severe reduction in NKT cell activation indicating the need of cooperation between both MZ macrophages and dendritic cells for efficient NKT cell responses. Thus, the location of splenic NKT cells in the MZ and RP facilitates their access to blood-borne antigen and enables the rapid initiation of protective immune responses.