The commensal bacteria normally resident in the gastrointestinal tract represent an enormous pool of foreign antigen within the body. Although mechanical barriers limit entry of bacteria into the host, recent data suggest that T cells routinely interact with commensal bacteria using both antigen-specific and non-specific receptors. Depending on the bacterial species, either regulatory or effector T cell responses can be generated. For example, segmented filamentous bacteria (SFB) favor effector Th17 responses whereas Bacteroides fragilis and certain Clostridium species favor Foxp3+ regulatory T (Treg) cell responses. Thus, in contrast with the notion that only tolerogenic responses are required to self, gut homeostasis may require both tolerance and immunity to various constituents of the commensal microbiota.