Natural killer (NK) cells play an essential role in the immune response to infection and cancer. After infection or during homeostatic expansion NK cells express a developmental program that includes a contraction phase followed by the formation of longlived mature memory-like cells. Although this NK cell response pattern is well established, the underlying mechanisms that ensure efficient transition to long-lived NK cells remain largely undefined. Here we report that deficient expression of intracellular osteopontin (OPN-i) by NK cells results in defective responses to IL-15 associated with a substantial increase in the NK cell contraction phase of homeostatic expansion, defective expression of the Eomes transcription factor, and diminished responses to metastatic tumors. The OPN-i-deficient phenotype is accompanied by increased NK cell apoptosis, impaired transition from immature to mature NK cells, and diminished ability to develop memory-like NK cells that respond to mouse cytomegalovirus. Gene pathway analysis of OPN-i-deficient NK cells suggests that the mechanistic target of rapamycin pathway may connect OPN-i to Eomes and T-bet expression by mature NK cells following up-regulation of OPN-i after IL-15 stimulation. Identification of OPN-i as an essential molecular component for maintenance of functional NK cell expansion provides insight into the NK cell response and may provide the basis for improved approaches to immunotherapy for infectious disease and cancer.