The clay montmorillonite is known to catalyze the polymerization of RNA from activated ribonucleotides. Here we report that montmorillonite accelerates the spontaneous conversion of fatty acid micelles into vesicles. Clay particles often become encapsulated in these vesicles, thus providing a pathway for the prebiotic encapsulation of catalytically active surfaces within membrane vesicles. In addition, RNA adsorbed to clay can be encapsulated within vesicles. Once formed, such vesicles can grow by incorporating fatty acid supplied as micelles and can divide without dilution of their contents by extrusion through small pores. These processes mediate vesicle replication through cycles of growth and division. The formation, growth, and division of the earliest cells may have occurred in response to similar interactions with mineral particles and inputs of material and energy.