CD4-unhelped CD8 + T cells are functionally defective T cells primed in the absence of CD4 + T cell help. Given the co-stimulatory role of natural-killer group 2, member D protein (NKG2D) on CD8 + T cells, we investigated its ability to rescue these immunologically impotent cells. We demonstrate that augmented co-stimulation through NKG2D during priming paradoxically rescues memory, but not effector, CD8 + T cell responses. NKG2D-mediated rescue is characterized by reversal of elevated transcription factor T-box expressed in T cells (T-bet) expression and recovery of interleukin-2 and interferon-γ production and cytolytic responses. Rescue is abrogated in CD8 + T cells lacking NKG2D. Augmented co-stimulation through NKG2D confers a high rate of survival to mice lacking CD4 + T cells in a CD4-dependent influenza model and rescues HIV-specific CD8 + T cell responses from CD4-deficient HIV-positive donors. These findings demonstrate that augmented co-stimulation through NKG2D is effective in rescuing CD4-unhelped CD8 + T cells from their pathophysiological fate and may provide therapeutic benefits.