T lymphocytes are a key regulatory component of the adaptive immune system. Understanding how the micro- and nano-scale details of the extracellular environment influence T cell activation may have wide impact on the use of T cells for therapeutic purposes. In this article, we examine how the micro- and nano-scale presentation of ligands to cell surface receptors, including microscale organization and nanoscale mobility, influences the activation of T cells. We extend these studies to include the role of cell-generated forces, and the rigidity of the microenvironment, on T cell activation. These approaches enable delivery of defined signals to T cells, a step toward understanding the cell-cell communication in the immune system, and developing micro/nano- and material- engineered systems for tailoring immune responses for adoptive T cell therapies.