The lung is the largest epithelial surface in the body and constitutes a major portal of entry for microorganisms. Dendritic cells (DCs) are bone marrow-derived cells that populate the respiratory tract from the nasal mucosa to the lung pleura. DCs are dexterous cells playing a role in both the innate and the adaptive immune responses. DCs can respond to dangers in the lung by immediately generating protective cytokines that stimulate natural killer (NK) cells to produce cytokines and kill targets. Direct (by pathogen recognition receptors) and indirect (by inflammatory cytokines) recognition of the infectious agent can also trigger signaling pathways in the DCs that activate an integrated developmental program called maturation, which transforms DCs into efficient antigen-presenting cells (APCs) for naive T cell stimulation. Furthermore, DCs play a role in generating effector B cells in the lymph nodes draining the lung. This review focuses on how DCs sense the health of the lung and translate messages regarding the lung microenvironment to cells of the innate and adaptive immune response to initiate effector functions to clear an invading microorganism [T helper 1 (Th1) or Th2 response] or generate tolerance [T regulatory (Tr), anergy, or deletion] to inhaled antigen when no danger is sensed.