Gamma delta (γδ) T cells are essential to protective immunity. In humans, most γδ T cells express Vγ9Vδ2+ T cell receptors (TCRs) that respond to phosphoantigens (pAgs) produced by cellular pathogens and overexpressed by cancers. However, the molecular targets recognized by these γδTCRs are unknown. Here, we identify butyrophilin 2A1 (BTN2A1) as a key ligand that binds to the Vγ9+ TCR γ chain. BTN2A1 associates with another butyrophilin, BTN3A1, and these act together to initiate responses to pAg. Furthermore, binding of a second ligand, possibly BTN3A1, to a separate TCR domain incorporating Vδ2 is also required. This distinctive mode of Ag-dependent T cell activation advances our understanding of diseases involving pAg recognition and creates opportunities for the development of γδ T cell–based immunotherapies.