Membrane nanotubes are thin membranous projections that physically connect two cells. While nanotubes have been studied in human natural killer (NK) cells and are implicated in aiding NK cell cytotoxic function, requirements for their formation to susceptible target cells remain incompletely understood. Here we demonstrate that the CD2-CD58/48 receptor-ligand interaction promotes and is required for nanotube formation in human NK cells. In the CD2(-) NK cell line YTS, a stable CD2 expression variant enabled effective nanotube formation, and was associated with better cytotoxic function. Importantly, only interactions between an NK cell and a susceptible target cell were associated with multiple nanotubes and the number of nanotubes was inversely correlated with their length. Quantitative live cell fluorescence microscopy of CD2 nanotubes revealed time-dependent enrichment and localization of CD2 to the nanotube tip, and blocking CD2 receptor-ligand interactions prevented nanotube formation. Increased nanotube formation was not simply a feature of receptor-ligand pairing, as a KIR-MHC interaction in the same cell line system failed to promote nanotube formation. Additionally, blocking LFA-1-ICAM and 2B4-CD48 receptor-ligand interactions failed to inhibit nanotube formation. Thus only specific receptor-ligand pairs promote nanotubes. CD2 also promoted nanotube formation in ex vivo NK cells suggesting that CD2 plays a crucial role in the generation of nanotubes between an NK cell and its target.