Surface-bound self-assembled lipid nanotubes (LNTs) made of 1,2-dioleoyl-sn-glycero-3-phosphoethanolamine (DOPE) were used to visualize the contractile activity of spreading cells. The interaction of cells with LNTs resulted in the nucleation of new nanotubes, directed toward the cell center, from existing ones. This process depended on cell generated forces and required acto-myosin mediated contractility. The dynamics of de novo generation of LNTs upon cell spreading was captured using optical microscopy on fluorescently labeled nanotubes and revealed characteristic fingerprints for different cell types such as fibroblasts, endothelial and melanoma cells. Additionally, the method was applied to detect the effect of a specific inhibitor on the generation of cellular forces. The mechanism of the LNT–cell interaction and the potential applications are discussed.