The room temperature onset plastic deformation and crack behavior of 3C-SiC under contact load were investigated using nanoindentation and transmission electron microscopy (TEM). During loading, abrupt bursts or pop-in in the load–displacement curves was observed at a depth of ~60 nm. The 3C-SiC deforms elastically before the pop-in depth, but exhibits a plastic-elastic behavior after that. TEM observations reveal that the shear slip is the predominant deformation mechanism in 3C-SiC during indentation. The cracks usually initiate at the intersection of shear bands or grain boundary. In addition, theoretical analysis confirms that the pop-in event is associated with the onset plasticity of 3C-SiC.