Fever is a cardinal response to infection that has been conserved in warm-blooded and cold-blooded vertebrates for more than 600 million years of evolution. The fever response is executed by integrated physiological and neuronal circuitry and confers a survival benefit during infection. In this Review, we discuss our current understanding of how the inflammatory cues delivered by the thermal element of fever stimulate innate and adaptive immune responses. We further highlight the unexpected multiplicity of roles of the pyrogenic cytokine interleukin-6 (IL-6), both during fever induction and during the mobilization of lymphocytes to the lymphoid organs that are the staging ground for immune defence. We also discuss the emerging evidence suggesting that the adrenergic signalling pathways associated with thermogenesis shape immune cell function.