The emergence of the adaptive immune system took a toll in the form of pathologies mediated by self-reactive cells. Regulatory T cells (T reg cells) exert a critical brake on responses of T and B lymphocytes to self- and foreign antigens. Here, we asked whether T reg cells are required to restrain NK cells, the third lymphocyte lineage, whose features combine innate and adaptive immune cell properties. Although depletion of T reg cells led to systemic fatal autoimmunity, NK cell tolerance and reactivity to strong activating self- and non-self-ligands remained largely intact. In contrast, missing-self responses were increased in the absence of T reg cells as the result of heightened IL-2 availability. We found that IL-2 rapidly boosted the capacity of NK cells to productively engage target cells and enabled NK cell responses to weak stimulation. Our results suggest that IL-2-dependent adaptive-innate lymphocyte cross talk tunes NK cell reactivity and that T reg cells restrain NK cell cytotoxicity by limiting the availability of IL-2.