The adaptive immune system is expected to protect the host from infectious agents and malignancies, while avoiding robust activation against self-peptides. However, T cells are notoriously inept at protection whenever the pathogen or tumor is persistent in the body for longer periods of time. While this has been thought of as an adaptation to limit the immunopathology from continued effector T-cell responses, it is also likely an extension of the T cell's intrinsic mechanisms which evolved to tolerate self-peptides. Here we deliberate on how the need to tolerate self-peptides might stem from a paradoxical requirement—the utility of such molecules in maintaining a diverse repertoire of pathogen—specific memory T cells in the body. Understanding the mechanisms underlying this intriguing nexus, therefore, has the potential to reveal therapeutic strategies not only for improving immune responses to chronic infections and tumors but also the long-term efficacy of vaccines aimed at cellular immune responses.