Humans efficiently estimate the grip force necessary to lift a variety of objects, including slippery ones. The regulation of grip force starts with the initial contact and takes into account the surface properties, such as friction. This estimation of the frictional strength has been shown to depend critically on cutaneous information. However, the physical and perceptual mechanism that provides such early tactile information remains elusive. In this study, we developed a friction-modulation apparatus to elucidate the effects of the frictional properties of objects during initial contact. We found a correlation between participants’ conscious perception of friction and radial strain patterns of skin deformation. The results provide insights into the tactile cues made available by contact mechanics to the sensorimotor regulation of grip, as well as to the conscious perception of the frictional properties of an object.