T lymphocytes are highly motile and constantly reposition themselves between a free-floating vascular state, transient adhesion and migration in tissues. The regulation behind this unique dynamic behaviour remains unclear. Here we show that T cells have a cell surface mechanism for integrated regulation of motility and adhesion and that integrin ligands and CXCL12/SDF-1 influence motility and adhesion through this mechanism. Targeting cell surface-expressed low-density lipoprotein receptor-related protein 1 (LRP1) with an antibody, or blocking transport of LRP1 to the cell surface, perturbed the cell surface distribution of endogenous thrombospondin-1 (TSP-1) while inhibiting motility and potentiating cytoplasmic spreading on intercellular adhesion molecule 1 (ICAM-1) and fibronectin. Integrin ligands and CXCL12 stimulated motility and enhanced cell surface expression of LRP1, intact TSP-1 and a 130 000 MW TSP-1 fragment while preventing formation of a de-adhesion-coupled 110 000 MW TSP-1 fragment. The appearance of the 130 000 MW TSP-1 fragment was inhibited by the antibody that targeted LRP1 expression, inhibited motility and enhanced spreading. The TSP-1 binding site in the LRP1-associated protein, calreticulin, stimulated adhesion to ICAM-1 through intact TSP-1 and CD47. Shear flow enhanced cell surface expression of intact TSP-1. Hence, chemokines and integrin ligands up-regulate a dominant motogenic pathway through LRP1 and TSP-1 cleavage and activate an associated adhesion pathway through the LRP1–calreticulin complex, intact TSP-1 and CD47. This regulation of T-cell motility and adhesion makes pro-adhesive stimuli favour motile responses, which may explain why T cells prioritize movement before permanent adhesion.