Abstract Cytotoxic T lymphocyte (CTL or CD8) responses are a major branch of the immune system involved in controlling viral infections. Murine models have shown that the development of effective and sustained CD8 cell responses requires CD4 T cell help. However, the precise mechanism in which CD4 cells provide help for CD8 cell responses is still controversial. In the literature, mainly two mechanisms are discussed. According to the “classical” pathway, CD4 cells secrete cytokines, such as IL-2, which promote the responsiveness of the CD8 cells. According to the “CD4–APC–CD8” pathway, CD4 cells specifically activate antigen presenting cells (APCs), and APCs specifically interact with CD8 cells, thereby delivering help. Here, we derive kinetic models in order to describe and compare both pathways of help. We find that the two pathways might have different roles in different situations. The classical pathway is more efficient at inducing CD8 cell expansion at high virus loads, while the CD4–APC–CD8 pathway is more efficient at inducing CD8 cell proliferation at low virus loads. From this, it follows that the classical pathway might be needed in order to kick-start a CD8 cell response in the acute phase of the infection, while the CD4–APC–CD8 pathway is needed in order to ensure virus clearance when virus load is reduced by the immune system. These findings have implications for the interpretation of experimental data from virus infection in helper-deficient hosts. In particular, the models offer further suggestions for the development of treatment regimes aimed at achieving immunological control of HIV infection which has been shown to crucially depend on the availability of helper cell responses.