Although recent evidence has pointed to the existence of small open reading frame (smORF)-encoded microproteins in mammals, their function remains to be determined. Skeletal muscle development requires fusion of mononuclear progenitors to form multinucleated myotubes, a critical but poorly understood process. Here we report the identification of Minion (microprotein inducer of fusion), a smORF encoding an essential skeletal muscle specific microprotein. Myogenic progenitors lacking Minion differentiate normally but fail to form syncytial myotubes, and Minion-deficient mice die perinatally and demonstrate a marked reduction in fused muscle fibres. The fusogenic activity of Minion is conserved in the human orthologue, and co-expression of Minion and the transmembrane protein Myomaker is sufficient to induce cellular fusion accompanied by rapid cytoskeletal rearrangement, even in non-muscle cells. These findings establish Minion as a novel microprotein required for muscle development, and define a two-component programme for the induction of mammalian cell fusion. Moreover, these data also significantly expand the known functions of smORF-encoded microproteins.