The relative contributions of IL-2 and IL-4 during the immune response to the retrovirus-induced tumor, FBL, were examined. Both proliferative and cytolytic responses to FBL were measured and compared to similar responses to minor histocompatibility Ag. The addition of alpha IL-2 partially inhibited FBL-stimulated proliferation of purified L3T4+ T cells and nearly completely inhibited the response of Lyt-2+ T cells, whereas alpha IL-4 partially inhibited the proliferative response of the L3T4+ subset but had no effect on the response of the Lyt-2+ subset. The addition of exogenous IL-4 augmented the proliferative response of both subsets. Therefore, IL-4 is an endogenous growth factor for FBL-induced specific proliferation of the L3T4+ and not the Lyt-2+ population, but both subpopulations can respond to IL-4. Similar examination of anti-FBL CTL responses revealed that alpha IL-2, but not alpha IL-4, inhibited FBL-specific Lyt-2+ CTL generation. However, exogenous IL-4 partially replaced the L3T4+ Th cell activity necessary for optimal Lyt-2+ FBL-specific CTL generation. Therefore, IL-4 is not required but can participate in the CTL response. The role of IL-4 during the immune response of B6 mice to minor histocompatibility Ag disparate BALB.B cells was analyzed. alpha IL-4 had no detectable effect on the proliferative or cytolytic response to BALB.B cells, suggesting that endogenous IL-4 does not have a significant role in these responses. The extent of involvement of endogenous IL-4 in the T cell responses to retrovirus-induced tumor Ag and minor histocompatibility Ag presumably reflects the nature of the stimulating Ag, and detection of an IL-4 response may correlate with induction of an antibody response. Thus, the immunizing Ag and/or host B cell repetoire may influence which subsets of L3T4+ Th cells are activated during priming in vivo.