The physical behaviors of stationary cells, such as the morphology, motility, adhesion, anchorage, invasion and metastasis, are likely to be important for governing their biological characteristics. A change in the physical properties of mammalian cells could be an indication of disease. In this paper, we present a silicon-nanowire-array based technique for quantifying the mechanical behavior of single cells representing three distinct groups: normal mammalian cells, benign cells (L929), and malignant cells (HeLa). By culturing the cells on top of NW arrays, the maximum traction forces of two different tumor cells (HeLa, L929) have been measured by quantitatively analyzing the bending of the nanowires. The cancer cell exhibits a larger traction force than the normal cell by ∼20% for a HeLa cell and ∼50% for a L929 cell. The traction forces have been measured for the L929 cells and mechanocytes as a function of culture time. The relationship between cells extending area and their traction force has been investigated. Our study is likely important for studying the mechanical properties of single cells and their migration characteristics, possibly providing a new cellular level diagnostic technique. © 2009 American Chemical Society.