Interleukin-HP1 (HP1)/IL-6 is a 25-30-kD protein produced by macrophages, fibroblasts, and certain T cell lines. It was originally identified as a mouse growth factor for B cell hybridomas and plasmacytomas, and was recently shown to stimulate growth and differentiation of normal B cells. Here we demonstrate that, in the presence of lectins or anti-T cell receptor antibodies, HP1/IL-6 has a growth factor activity equivalent to that of IL-2 for mature thymic and peripheral T cells of both the L3T4+ and Lyt-2+ subsets. Contrary to IL-2 and IL-4, HP1/IL-6 was, however, not capable of supporting the growth of established T cell lines. In addition to its effects on T cell proliferation, HP1/IL-6 also enhanced the differentiation of mouse cytolytic T cell precursors in primary allogeneic mixed lymphocyte cultures. Fractionation of responding cell populations indicated that HP1/IL-6 was capable of restoring the response of accessory cell-depleted T cells to Con A. This observation suggests that the production of HP1/IL-6 by macrophages could, at least partly, explain their role in polyclonal T cell activation.