Programmed cell death–1 (PD-1)–targeted therapies enhance T cell responses and show efficacy in multiple cancers, but the role of costimulatory molecules in this T cell rescue remains elusive. Here, we demonstrate that the CD28/B7 costimulatory pathway is essential for effective PD-1 therapy during chronic viral infection. Conditional gene deletion showed a cell-intrinsic requirement of CD28 for CD8 T cell proliferation after PD-1 blockade. B7-costimulation was also necessary for effective PD-1 therapy in tumor-bearing mice. In addition, we found that CD8 T cells proliferating in blood after PD-1 therapy of lung cancer patients were predominantly CD28-positive. Taken together, these data demonstrate CD28-costimulation requirement for CD8 T cell rescue and suggest an important role for the CD28/B7 pathway in PD-1 therapy of cancer patients.