HLA class I (HLA-I) glycoproteins drive immune responses by presenting antigens to cognate CD8+ T cells. This process is often hijacked by tumors and pathogens for immune evasion. Because options for restoring HLA-I antigen presentation are limited, we aimed to identify druggable HLA-I pathway targets. Using iterative genome-wide screens, we uncovered that the cell surface glycosphingolipid (GSL) repertoire determines effective HLA-I antigen presentation. We show that absence of the protease SPPL3 augmented B3GNT5 enzyme activity, resulting in upregulation of surface neolacto-series GSLs. These GSLs sterically impeded antibody and receptor interactions with HLA-I and diminished CD8+ T cell activation. Furthermore, a disturbed SPPL3-B3GNT5 pathway in glioma correlated with decreased patient survival. We show that the immunomodulatory effect could be reversed through GSL synthesis inhibition using clinically approved drugs. Overall, our study identifies a GSL signature that inhibits immune recognition and represents a potential therapeutic target in cancer, infection, and autoimmunity.