The basic principle of adaptive immunity is to strictly discriminate between self and non-self, and a central challenge to overcome is the enormous variety of pathogens that might be encountered. In cell-mediated immunity, immunological discernment takes place at a molecular or cellular level. Central to both mechanisms of discernment is the generation of antigenic peptides associated with MHC class I molecules, which is achieved by a proteolytic complex called the proteasome. To adequately accomplish the discrimination between self and non-self that is essential for adaptive immunity and self-tolerance, two proteasome subtypes have evolved via gene duplication: the immunoproteasome and the thymoproteasome. In this Review, we describe various aspects of these immunity-dedicated proteasomes, from their discovery to recent findings.