Invariant natural killer T cells (iNKT cells) are innate-like T lymphocytes that act as critical regulators of the immune response. To better characterize this population, we profiled gene expression in iNKT cells during ontogeny and in peripheral subsets as part of the Immunological Genome Project. High-resolution comparative transcriptional analyses defined developmental and subset-specific programs of gene expression by iNKT cells. In addition, we found that iNKT cells shared an extensive transcriptional program with NK cells, similar in magnitude to that shared with major histocompatibility complex (MHC)-restricted T cells. Notably, the program shared by NK cells and iNKT cells also operated constitutively in γδ T cells and in adaptive T cells after activation. Together our findings highlight a core effector program regulated distinctly in innate and adaptive lymphocytes.