An evolutionary hallmark of anthropoid primates, including humans, is the use of vision to guide precise manual movements. These behaviors are reliant on a specialized visual input to the posterior parietal cortex. Here, we show that normal primate reaching-and-grasping behavior depends critically on a visual pathway through the thalamic pulvinar, which is thought to relay information to the middle temporal (MT) area during early life and then swiftly withdraws. Small MRI-guided lesions to a subdivision of the inferior pulvinar subnucleus (PIm) in the infant marmoset monkey led to permanent deficits in reaching-and-grasping behavior in the adult. This functional loss coincided with the abnormal anatomical development of multiple cortical areas responsible for the guidance of actions. Our study reveals that the transient retino–pulvinar–MT pathway underpins the development of visually guided manual behaviors in primates that are crucial for interacting with complex features in the environment.