Paternal behavior is not innate but arises through social experience. After mating and becoming fathers, male mice change their behavior toward pups from infanticide to paternal care. However, the precise brain areas and circuit mechanisms connecting these social behaviors are largely unknown. Here we demonstrated that the c-Fos expression pattern in the four nuclei of the preoptic-bed nuclei of stria terminalis (BST) region could robustly discriminate five kinds of previous social behavior of male mice (parenting, infanticide, mating, inter‐male aggression, solitary control). Specifically, neuronal activation in the central part of the medial preoptic area (cMPOA) and rhomboid nucleus of the BST (BSTrh) retroactively detected paternal and infanticidal motivation with more than 95% accuracy. Moreover, cMPOA lesions switched behavior in fathers from paternal to infanticidal, while BSTrh lesions inhibited infanticide in virgin males. The projections from cMPOA to BSTrh were largely GABAergic. Optogenetic or pharmacogenetic activation of cMPOA attenuated infanticide in virgin males. Taken together, this study identifies the preoptic-BST nuclei underlying social motivations in male mice and reveals unexpected complexity in the circuit connecting these nuclei.