The early mouse embryo is an excellent system to study how a small group of initially rounded cells start to change shape and establish the first forms of adhesion-based cell-cell interactions in mammals in vivo. In addition to its critical role in the structural integrity of the embryo, we discuss here how adhesion is important to regulate cell polarity and cell fate. Recent evidence suggests that adherens junctions participate in signaling pathways by localizing key proteins to subcellular microdomains. E-cadherin has been identified as the main player required for the establishment of adhesion but other mechanisms involving additional proteins or physical forces acting in the embryo may also contribute. Application of new technologies that enable high-resolution quantitative imaging of adhesion protein dynamics and measurements of biomechanical forces will provide a greater understanding of how adhesion patterns the early mammalian embryo.