Staphylococcus aureus has evolved different strategies to evade the immune response, which play an important role in its pathogenesis. The bacteria express and shed various cell wall components and toxins during different stages of growth that may affect the protective T cell responses to extracellular and intracellular S. aureus However, if and how the dendritic cell (DC)-mediated T cell response against S. aureus changes during growth of the bacterium remain elusive. In this study, we show that exponential-phase (EP) S. aureus bacteria were endocytosed very efficiently by human DCs, and these DCs strongly promoted production of the T cell polarizing factor interleukin-12 (IL-12). In contrast, stationary-phase (SP) S. aureus bacteria were endocytosed less efficiently by DCs, and these DCs produced small amounts of IL-12. The high level of IL-12 production induced by EP S. aureus led to the development of a T helper 1 (Th1) cell response, which was inhibited after neutralization of IL-12. Furthermore, preincubation with the staphylococcal cell wall component peptidoglycan (PGN), characteristically shed during the exponential growth phase, modulated the DC response to EP S. aureus PGN preincubation appeared to inhibit IL-12p35 expression, leading to downregulation of IL-12 and an increase of IL-23 production by DCs, enhancing Th17 cell development. Taken together, our data indicate that exponential-phase S. aureus bacteria induce a stronger IL-12-dependent Th1 cell response than stationary-phase S. aureus and that this Th1 cell response shifted toward a Th17 cell response in the presence of PGN.