In this study we have investigated the role of accessory cells in the development of lymphokine-activated killer cells (LAK) from highly purified human NK and small resting T cell progenitors. As accessory cells we used autologous, as well as allogeneic, monocytes, and dendritic cell enriched cells. Both NK and T cells were able to generate LAK activity, but their activation requirements were different. NK cells were activated merely by IL-2, and accessory cells did not enhance their lytic activity in the presence or absence of IL-2. Conversely, T cells were practically unresponsive to even high concentrations of IL-2 having a strict requirement for accessory cells for the development of lytic activity and proliferation. Accessory cells differed in their ability to activate T cells presumably depending on their ability to induce IL-2 synthesis, allogeneic dendritic cells being the most effective accessory cells and IL-2 synthesis stimulators. Allogeneic accessory cells could induce lytic activity in T cells even in the absence of exogenous IL-2. Thus, accessory cells play a central role in expanding the LAK effector cell population.