The fate of T lymphocytes revolves around a continuous stream of interactions between the T-cell receptor (TCR) and peptide-major histocompatibility complex (MHC) molecules. Beginning in the thymus and continuing into the periphery, these interactions, refined by accessory molecules, direct the expansion, differentiation, and function of T-cell subsets. The cellular context of T-cell engagement with antigen-presenting cells, either in lymphoid or non-lymphoid tissues, plays an important role in determining how these cells respond to antigen encounters. CD8+ T cells are essential for clearance of a lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus (LCMV) infection, but the virus can present a number of unique challenges that antiviral T cells must overcome. Peripheral LCMV infection can lead to rapid cytolytic clearance or chronic viral persistence; central nervous system infection can result in T-cell-dependent fatal meningitis or an asymptomatic carrier state amenable to immunotherapeutic clearance. These diverse outcomes all depend on interactions that require TCR engagement of cognate peptide-MHC complexes. In this review, we explore the diversity in antiviral T-cell behaviors resulting from TCR engagement, beginning with an overview of the immunological synapse and progressing to regulators of TCR signaling that shape the delicate balance between immunopathology and viral clearance.