Defining the molecular interactions required to program activated CD8 T cells to survive and become memory cells may allow us to understand how to augment anti-viral immunity. HVEM (herpes virus entry mediator) is a member of the tumor necrosis factor receptor (TNFR) family that interacts with ligands in the TNF family, LIGHT and Lymphotoxin-α, and in the Ig family, B and T lymphocyte attenuator (BTLA) and CD160. The Ig family members initiate inhibitory signaling when engaged with HVEM, but may also activate survival gene expression. Using a model of vaccinia virus infection, we made the unexpected finding that deficiency in HVEM or BTLA profoundly impaired effector CD8 T cell survival and development of protective immune memory. Mixed adoptive transfer experiments indicated that BTLA expressed in CD8α+ dendritic cells functions as a trans-activating ligand that delivers positive co-signals through HVEM expressed in T cells. Our data demonstrate a critical role of HVEM-BTLA bidirectional cosignaling system in antiviral defenses by driving the differentiation of memory CD8 T cells.