Anomalously low values of friction observed in layers of submicron particles deformed in simple shear at high slip velocities are explained as the consequence of a one nanometer thick layer of water adsorbed on the particles. The observed transition from normal friction with an apparent coefficient near μ = 0.6 at low slip speeds to a coefficient near μ = 0.3 at higher slip speeds is attributed to competition between the time required to extrude the water layer from between neighboring particles in a force chain and the average lifetime of the chain. At low slip speeds the time required for extrusion is less than the average lifetime of a chain so the particles make contact and lock. As slip speed increases, the average lifetime of a chain decreases until it is less than the extrusion time and the particles in a force chain never come into direct contact. If the adsorbed water layer enables the otherwise rough particles to rotate, the coefficient of friction will drop to μ = 0.3, appropriate for rotating spheres. At the highest slip speeds particle temperatures rise above 100°C, the water layer vaporizes, the particles contact and lock, and the coefficient of friction rises to μ = 0.6. The observed onset of weakening at slip speeds near 0.001 m/s is consistent with the measured viscosity of a 1 nm thick layer of adsorbed water, with a minimum particle radius of approximately 20 nm, and with reasonable assumptions about the distribution of force chains guided by experimental observation. The reduction of friction and the range of velocities over which it occurs decrease with increasing normal stress, as predicted by the model. Moreover, the analysis predicts that this high-speed weakening mechanism should operate only for particles with radii smaller than approximately 1 μm. For larger particles the slip speed required for weakening is so large that frictional heating will evaporate the adsorbed water and weakening will not occur.