The maintenance of naive CD8(+) T cells is necessary for lifelong immunocompetence but for unknown reasons requires signaling via both interleukin 7 (IL-7) and the T cell antigen receptor (TCR). We now report that naive CD8(+) T cells required IL-7 signaling to be intermittent, not continuous, because prolonged IL-7 signaling induced naive CD8(+) T cells to proliferate, produce interferon-γ (IFN-γ) and undergo IFN-γ-triggered cell death. Homeostatic engagement of the TCR interrupted IL-7 signaling and thereby supported the survival and quiescence of CD8(+) T cells. However, CD8(+) T cells with insufficient TCR affinity for self ligands received prolonged IL-7 signaling and died during homeostasis. In this study we identified regulation of the duration of IL-7 signaling by homeostatic engagement of the TCR as the basis for in vivo CD8(+) T cell homeostasis.