Dendritic cells (DCs) use pattern recognition receptors to detect microorganisms and activate protective immunity. These cells and receptors are thought to operate in an all-or-nothing manner, existing in an immunologically active or inactive state. Here, we report that encounters with microbial products and self-encoded oxidized phospholipids (oxPAPC) induce an enhanced DC activation state, which we call “hyperactive.” Hyperactive DCs induce potent adaptive immune responses and are elicited by caspase-11, an enzyme that binds oxPAPC and bacterial lipopolysaccharide (LPS). oxPAPC and LPS bind caspase-11 via distinct domains and elicit different inflammasome-dependent activities. Both lipids induce caspase-11-dependent interleukin-1 release, but only LPS induces pyroptosis. The cells and receptors of the innate immune system can therefore achieve different activation states, which may permit context-dependent responses to infection.