In a depleted lymphoid compartment, naive T cells begin a slow proliferation that is independent of cognate antigen yet requires recognition of major histocompatibility complex–bound self-peptides. We have followed the phenotypic and functional changes that occur when naive CD8+ T cells undergo this type of expansion in a lymphopenic environment. Naive T cells undergoing homeostasis-driven proliferation convert to a phenotypic and functional state similar to that of memory T cells, yet distinct from antigen-activated effector T cells. Naive T cells dividing in a lymphopenic host upregulate CD44, CD122 (interleukin 2 receptor β) and Ly6C expression, acquire the ability to rapidly secrete interferon γ, and become cytotoxic effectors when stimulated with cognate antigen. The conversion of naive T cells to cells masquerading as memory cells in response to a homeostatic signal does not represent an irreversible differentiation. Once the cellularity of the lymphoid compartment is restored and the T cells cease their division, they regain the functional and phenotypic characteristics of naive T cells. Thus, homeostasis-driven proliferation provides a thymus-independent mechanism for restoration of the naive compartment after a loss of T cells.