Viruses that establish a persistent infection with their host have evolved numerous strategies to evade the immune system. Consequently, they are useful tools to dissect the complex cellular processes that comprise the immune response. Rapid progress has been made in recent years in defining the role of cellular MHC class I molecules in regulating the response of natural killer (NK) cells. Concomitantly, the roles of the MHC class I homologues encoded by human and mouse cytomegaloviruses in evading or subverting NK cell responses has received considerable interest. This review discusses the results from a number of studies that have pursued the biological function of the viral MHC class I homologues. Based on the evidence from these studies, hypotheses for the possible role of these intriguing molecules are presented.