The human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and simian immunodeficiency virus (SIV) have a long biological history. Both viruses evolved from Africa and remnants of them can be found in the 'fossil record' of several species in which they are not endemic. SIV remains endemic in several species of monkeys in Africa where it does not cause immune deficiency. HIV and SIV actively replicate within humans and Asian non-human primates, despite cellular and genetic viral restriction factors and genes, and at times robust innate and adaptive immune responses. While Lentiviruses are considered 'slow viruses' it is clear in humans and susceptible Asian monkeys that virus production is rapid and highly active. This results in a massive loss of CD4+ memory effector T cells early after infection and a continued race between viral evolution, cytotoxic lymphocytes, and failed neutralizing antibody responses. Concurrently, HIV and SIV can infect monocyte/macrophage populations in blood and more importantly in tissues, including the central nervous system, where the virus can remain sequestered and not cleared by anti-retroviral therapy, and hide for years. This review will discuss species and cellular barriers to infection, and the role of innate and acquired immunity with infection and pathogenesis of HIV and SIV in select species.