© 2021, The Author(s), under exclusive license to Springer Nature Switzerland AG.Machining AISI 304 austenitic stainless steel is well-known as it is very challenging due to its low thermal conductivity and hardening tendency. High-cutting forces are one of the common problems encountered during the machining of this kind of hard-to-cut materials. An attempt to improve its machinability while ensuring environmentally friendly conditions has been made. This experimental study was conducted from the perspective of performance assessment of machining parameters in turning AISI 304 under dry, minimum quantity lubrication (MQL), and nanofluid MQL conditions with consideration of the cutting forces. Additionally, as a methodology, the response surface methodology (RSM) and quantitative evaluation based on the primary effects plot were used. The study revealed that nanofluid MQL offered encouraging results compared to the MQL and dry conditions. Ultimately, the desirability function optimization method (DF) has been successfully executed to determine the best optimal machining responses under different cutting cooling conditions.