The end-stage immunopathology of type 1 diabetes resulting in β-cell destruction appears to be strongly dominated by cytotoxic CD8 T lymphocytes (CD8 T cells). However, the mechanism of cytotoxicity used by autoreactive CD8 T cells in the human setting remains unknown. Using type 1 diabetes patient–derived preproinsulin-specific CD8 T-cell clones recognizing either an HLA-A2 (A*0201) or HLA-A24 (A*2402)-restricted epitope (peptide of preproinsulin [PPI]15–24, ALWGPDPAAA; or PPI3–11, LWMRLLPLL), we assessed the use of conventional mediators of cytotoxicity in the destruction of human β-cells in vitro compared with virus-specific cytotoxic CD8 T-cell clones. We show that PPI-specific CD8 T-cell clones are mainly reliant upon cytotoxic degranulation for inducing β-cell death. Furthermore, we find that in comparison with virus-specific CD8 T cells, there are differences in the killing potency of PPI-specific CD8 T cells that are not due to cell-intrinsic differences, but rather are mediated by differences in strength of signaling by peptide–HLA ligands. The study highlights the regulation of β-cell killing as a potential point for therapeutic control, including the possibility of blocking autoreactive CD8 T-cell function without impacting upon general immune competence.