Peptides from the lumenal portion of invariant chain (Ii) spanning residues 80-106 (class II-associated Ii peptide [CLIP]) are found in association with several mouse and human major histocompatibility complex (MHC) class II allelic variants in wild-type and presentation-deficient mutant cells. The ready detection of these complexes suggests that such an intermediate is essential to the MHC class II processing pathway. In this study, we demonstrate that T cells recognize CLIP/MHC class II complexes on the surface of normal and mutant cells in a manner indistinguishable from that of nominal antigenic peptides. Surprisingly, T cell hybrids specific for human CLIP bound to murine MHC class II molecule I-Ab and a new monoclonal antibody 30-2 with the same specificity, recognize two independent epitopes expressed on this peptide/class II complex. T cell recognition is dependent on a Gln residue (position 100) in CLIP, whereas the 30-2 antibody recognizes a Lys residue-at position 90. These two residues flank the 91-99 sequence that is conserved among human, mouse, and rat Ii, potentially representing an MHC class II-binding site. Our results suggest that the COOH-terminal portion of CLIP that includes TCR contact residue Gln 100 binds in the groove of I-Ab molecule. Moreover, both T cells and the antibody recognize I-Ab complexed with larger Ii processing intermediates such as the approximately 12-kD small leupeptin-induced protein (SLIP) fragments. Thus, SLIP fragments contain a CLIP region bound to MHC class II molecule in a conformation identical to that of a free CLIP peptide. Finally, our data suggest that SLIP/MHC class II complexes are precursors of CLIP/MHC class II complexes.