Mycobacterium tuberculosis, the causative agent of tuberculosis (TB), resides and replicates within phagocytes and persists in susceptible hosts by modulating protective innate immune responses. Furthermore, M. tuberculosis promotes T helper 2 (Th2) immune responses by altering the balance of T cell polarizing cytokines in infected cells. However, cytokines that regulate Th2 cell differentiation during TB infection remain unknown. Here we show that IL-1β, produced by phagocytes infected by virulent M. tuberculosis strain H37Rv, directs Th2 cell differentiation. In sharp contrast, the vaccine strain bacille Calmette-Guérin as well as RD-1 and ESAT-6 mutants of H37Rv failed to induce IL-1β and promote Th2 cell differentiation. Furthermore, ESAT-6 induced IL-1β production in dendritic cells (DCs), and CD4(+) T cells co-cultured with infected DCs differentiated into Th2 cells. Taken together, our findings indicate that IL-1β induced by RD-1/ESAT-6 plays an important role in the differentiation of Th2 cells, which in turn facilitates progression of TB by inhibiting host protective Th1 responses.