Obesity is the hallmark of the metabolic syndrome and predisposes patients to the development of major chronic metabolic diseases including type 2 diabetes mellitus. Adipose tissue expansion in obesity is characterized by increasing infiltration of proinflammatory immune cells into adipose tissue causing chronic, low-grade inflammation. Phenotypic switching of macrophages is an important mechanism of adipose tissue inflammation, and there is involvement of cells from the adaptive immune system in this process. T-cell phenotype changes and recruitment of B cells and T cells precedes macrophage infiltration. Cytokines and chemokines produced by immune cells influence localized and systemic inflammation, which is a pathogenic link between obesity and insulin resistance. Antigens absorbed from the gut might contribute to T-cell activation and recruitment into visceral adipose tissue in obesity. This Review summarizes, in the context of obesity, the evidence for infiltration of adipose tissue by cells of the adaptive immune system, how adaptive system cells affect innate cell populations and the influence of adaptive immune cells on the development of insulin resistance.