The protozoan parasite Leishmania spp. causes clinical pictures ranging in severity from spontaneously healing skin ulcers to systemic disease. The immune response associated with healing involves the differentiation of IFNγ-producing Th1 cells, whereas the non-healing phenotype is associated with IL4-producing Th2 cells. The widespread assumption has been that the T-cell differentiation that leads to a healing or non-healing phenotype is established at the time of T-cell activation early after infection. By selectively analyzing the expression of cytokine genes in the T-cell zones of lymph nodes of resistant (Th1) C57BL/6 mice and susceptible (Th2) BALB/c mice during an infection with Leishmania major in vivo, we show that the early T-cell response does not differ between C57BL/6 mice and BALB/c mice. Instead, Th1/Th2 polarization appears suddenly 3 weeks after infection. At the same time point, the number of parasites increases in lymph nodes of both mouse strains, but about 100-fold more in susceptible BALB/c mice. We conclude that the protective Th1 response in C57BL/6 mice is facilitated by the capacity of their innate effector cells to keep parasite numbers at low levels.