Natural killer (NK) cells protect hosts against viral pathogens and transformed cells. IL-15 is thought to play a critical role in NK cell development, but its role in the regulation of peripheral NK cells is less well defined. We now find that adoptive transfer of normal NK cells into mice lacking the high affinity interleukin (IL)-15 receptor, IL-15Rα, surprisingly results in the abrupt loss of these cells. Moreover, IL-15Rα–deficient NK cells can differentiate successfully in radiation bone marrow chimera bearing normal cells. Finally, adoptively transferred IL-15Rα–deficient NK cells survive in normal but not IL-15Rα–deficient mice. These findings demonstrate that NK cell–independent IL-15Rα expression is critical for maintaining peripheral NK cells, while IL-15Rα expression on NK cells is not required for this function.