During viral infections, significant numbers of T cells are activated in a T cell receptor-independent and cytokine-dependent manner, a phenomenon referred to as "bystander activation." Cytokines, including type I interferons, interleukin-18, and interleukin-15, are the most important factors that induce bystander activation of T cells, each of which plays a somewhat different role. Bystander T cells lack specificity for the pathogen, but can nevertheless impact the course of the immune response to the infection. For example, bystander-activated CD8(+) T cells can participate in protective immunity by secreting cytokines, such as interferon-gamma. They also mediate host injury by exerting cytotoxicity that is facilitated by natural killer cell-activating receptors, such as NKG2D, and cytolytic molecules, such as granzyme B. Interestingly, it has been recently reported that there is a strong association between the cytolytic function of bystander-activated CD8(+) T cells and host tissue injury in patients with acute hepatitis A virus infection. The current review addresses the induction of bystander CD8(+) T cells, their effector functions, and their potential roles in immunity to infection, immunopathology, and autoimmunity.