This paper is concerned with finite element modelling of microstructure-sensitive plasticity and crack initiation in fretting. The approach adopted is based on an existing method for microstructure-sensitive (uniaxial) fatigue life prediction, which proposes the use of a unit cell crystal plasticity model to identify the critical value of accumulated plastic slip associated with crack initiation. This approach is successfully implemented here, using a FCC unit cell crystal plasticity model, to predict the plain low-cycle fatigue behaviour of a stainless steel. A crystal plasticity frictional contact model for stainless steel is developed for microstructure-sensitive fretting analyses. A methodology for microstructure-sensitive fretting crack initiation is presented, based on identification of the number of cycles in the fretting contact at which the identified critical value of accumulated plastic slip is achieved. Significant polycrystal plasticity effects in fretting are predicted, leading to significant effects on contact pressure, fatigue indicator parameters and microstructural accumulated slip. The crystal plasticity fretting predictions are compared with J(2) continuum plasticity predictions. It is argued that the microstructural accumulated plastic slip parameter has the potential to unify the prediction of wear and fatigue crack initiation, leading in some cases, e.g. gross slip, to wear, via a non-localised distribution of critical crystallographic slip, and in other cases, e.g. partial slip, to fatigue crack initiation, via a highly-localised distribution of critical crystallographic slip with preferred orientation (cracking locations and directions). (C) 2011 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.