While distinct stages of natural killer (NK) cell development have been defined, the molecular interactions that shape human NK cell maturation are poorly understood. Here we define intercellular interactions between developing NK cells and stromal cells which, through contact-dependent mechanisms, promote the generation of mature, functional human NK cells from CD34+ precursors. We show that developing NK cells undergo unique, developmental stage-specific sustained and transient interactions with developmentally supportive stromal cells, and that the relative motility of NK cells increases as they move through development in vitro and ex vivo. These interactions include the formation of a synapse between developing NK cells and stromal cells, which we term the developmental synapse. Finally, we identify a role for CD56 in developmental synapse structure, NK cell motility and NK cell development. Thus, we define the developmental synapse leading to human NK cell functional maturation.