Protein-mediated DNA looping is ubiquitous in chromatin organization and gene regulation, but to what extent supercoiling or nucleoid associated proteins promote looping is poorly understood. Using the lac repressor (LacI), a paradigmatic loop-mediating protein, we measured LacI-induced looping as a function of either supercoiling or the concentration of the HU protein, an abundant nucleoid protein in Escherichia coli. Negative supercoiling to physiological levels with magnetic tweezers easily drove the looping probability from 0 to 100% in single DNA molecules under slight tension that likely exists in vivo. In contrast, even saturating (micromolar) concentrations of HU could not raise the looping probability above 30% in similarly stretched DNA or 80% in DNA without tension. Negative supercoiling is required to induce significant looping of DNA under any appreciable tension.