When intracellular pathogens invade mammalian hosts, naïve CD8 + T cells differentiate into cytotoxic killers, which lyse infected target cells and secrete cytokines that activate intracellular microbicides. We show that CD8+ T cells deficient in the transcription factors T-bet and eomesodermin (Eomes) fail to differentiate into functional killers required for defense against lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus. Instead, virus-specific CD8+ T cells lacking both T-bet and Eomes differentiate into an interleukin-17-secreting lineage, reminiscent of the helper T cell fate that has been implicated in autoimmunity and extracellular microbial defense. Upon viral infection, mice with T cells lacking both T-bet and Eomes develop a CD8 + T cell-dependent, progressive inflammatory and wasting syndrome characterized by multi-organ infiltration of neutrophils. T-bet and Eomes, thus, ensure that CD8+ T cells adopt an appropriate course of intracellular rather than extracellular destruction.