Numerical and experimental approaches are mutually conducted to investigate the temperature rise in steel machining at high cutting speed. The process is modeled using a fully coupled thermo-mechanical finite element scheme. Cutting tests were carried out at 38 m/s on a ballistic orthogonal cutting set-up equipped with an intensified CCD camera. Analysis of experimental results leads to determine the variables which control heat transfer between the tool and chip. A discussion about the most important parameters controlling the temperature rise at the tool-chip interface is then proposed. The results also show that the temperature-dependence of the frictional stress modeling can improve the accuracy of the numerical simulations.