The earliest steps along the pathway leading to T cells in mice and humans are reviewed. These are the steps between the multipotent hemopoietic stem cell (HSC) and the fully committed precursors undergoing T cell receptor (TCR) gene rearrangement. At this level significant differences between adult and fetal lymphopoiesis have been demonstrated. The extent of lymphoid commitment of precursors within bone marrow is still unresolved, although HSCs clearly undergo developmental changes before migration to the thymus. Both multipotent and T-restricted precursors have now been isolated from fetal blood, suggesting both may seed the thymus. Within the thymus, several minute but discrete populations of T precursors precede the stage of TCR gene rearrangement. They include precursors that are not exclusively T-lineage committed, although they are distinct from HSCs. These precursors have a potential to form NK cells, B cells, dendritic cells, and sometimes other myeloid cells. Some factors that control early lymphoid development are discussed, including IL-7 and the Ikaros transcription factors. These will eventually help to clarify the process of T-lineage commitment.