One-dimensional smart probes based on nanowires and nanotubes that can safely penetrate the plasma membrane and enter biological cells are potentially useful in high-resolution and high-throughput gene and drug delivery, biosensing and single-cell electrophysiology. However, using such probes for optical communication across the cellular membrane at the subwavelength level remains limited. Here, we show that a nanowire waveguide attached to the tapered tip of an optical fibre can guide visible light into intracellular compartments of a living mammalian cell, and can also detect optical signals from subcellular regions with high spatial resolution. Furthermore, we show that through light-activated mechanisms the endoscope can deliver payloads into cells with spatial and temporal specificity. Moreover, insertion of the endoscope into cells and illumination of the guided laser did not induce any significant toxicity in the cells.