Cold-work has been associated with the occurrence of intergranular cracking of stainless steels employed in light water reactors. This study examined the deformation behavior of AISI 304, AISI 347 and a higher stacking fault energy model alloy subjected to bulk cold-work and (for 347) surface deformation. Deformation microstructures of the materials were examined and correlated with their particular mechanical response under different conditions of temperature, strain rate and degree of prior cold-work. Select slow-strain rate tensile tests in autoclaves enabled the role of local strain heterogeneity in crack initiation in pressurized water reactor environments to be considered. The high stacking fault energy material exhibited uniform strain hardening, even at sub-zero temperatures, while the commercial stainless steels showed significant heterogeneity in their strain response. Surface treatments introduced local cold-work, which had a clear effect on the surface roughness and hardness, and on near-surface residual stress profiles. Autoclave tests led to transgranular surface cracking for a circumferentially ground surface, and intergranular crack initiation for a polished surface.