Dendritic cells (DCs) play a predominant role in activation of natural killer (NK) cells that exert their functions against pathogen-infected and tumor cells. Here, we used a murine model to investigate the molecular mechanisms responsible for this process. Two soluble molecules produced by bacterially activated myeloid DCs are required for optimal priming of NK cells. Type I interferons (IFNs) promote the cytotoxic functions of NK cells. IL-2 is necessary both in vitro and in vivo for the efficient production of IFNγ, which has an important antimetastatic and antibacterial function. These findings provide new information about the mechanisms that mediate DC–NK cell interactions and define a novel and fundamental role for IL-2 in innate immunity.