CD4 T cells are pivotal for effective immunity, yet their initial differentiation into effector subsets after infection remains poorly defined. We examined CD4 T cells specific for the immunodominant Leishmania major LACK antigen using MHC/peptide tetramers and IL-4 reporter mice. Comprising approximately 15 cells/lymph node in naive mice, LACK-specific T cells expanded over 100-fold, and 70% acquired IL-4 expression by 96 hr. Despite their pathogenic role in susceptible mice, LACK-specific precursor frequency, expansion, and IL-4 expression were comparable between susceptible and resistant mice. When injected with unrelated antigen, Leishmania efficiently activated IL-4 expression from naive antigen-specific T cells. CD4 subset polarization in this highly characterized model occurs independently from IL-4 expression by naive T cells, which is activated indiscriminately after parasitism.