Retinoblastoma is a childhood retinal tumour that initiates in response to biallelic RB1 inactivation and loss of functional retinoblastoma (Rb) protein. Although Rb has diverse tumour-suppressor functions and is inactivated in many cancers1, 2, 3, 4, 5, germline RB1 mutations predispose to retinoblastoma far more strongly than to other malignancies6. This tropism suggests that retinal cell-type-specific circuitry sensitizes to Rb loss, yet the nature of the circuitry and the cell type in which it operates have been unclear7, 8. Here we show that post-mitotic human cone precursors are uniquely sensitive to Rb depletion. Rb knockdown induced cone precursor proliferation in prospectively isolated populations and in intact retina. Proliferation followed the induction of E2F-regulated genes, and depended on factors having strong expression in maturing cone precursors and crucial roles in retinoblastoma cell proliferation, including MYCN and MDM2. Proliferation of Rb-depleted cones and retinoblastoma cells also depended on the Rb-related protein p107, SKP2, and a p27 downregulation associated with cone precursor maturation. Moreover, Rb-depleted cone precursors formed tumours in orthotopic xenografts with histological features and protein expression typical of human retinoblastoma. These findings provide a compelling molecular rationale for a cone precursor origin of retinoblastoma. More generally, they demonstrate that cell-type-specific circuitry can collaborate with an initiating oncogenic mutation to enable tumorigenesis.