Hepatic fibrosis is a wound-healing response to chronic liver injury, which if persistent leads to cirrhosis and liver failure. Exciting progress has been made in understanding the mechanisms of hepatic fibrosis. Major advances include: (i) characterization of the components of extracellular matrix (ECM) in normal and fibrotic liver; (ii) identification of hepatic stellate cells as the primary source of ECM in liver fibrosis; (iii) elucidation of key cytokines, their cellular sources, modes of regulation, and signalling pathways involved in liver fibrogenesis; (iv) characterization of key matrix proteases and their inhibitors; (v) identification of apoptotic mediators in stellate cells and exploration of their roles during the resolution of liver injury. These advances have helped delineate a more comprehensive picture of liver fibrosis in which the central event is the activation of stellate cells, a transformation from quiescent vitamin A-rich cells to proliferative, fibrogenic and contractile myofibroblasts. The progress in understanding fibrogenic mechanisms brings the development of effective therapies closer to reality. In the future, targeting of stellate cells and fibrogenic mediators will be a mainstay of antifibrotic therapy. Points of therapeutic intervention may include: (i) removing the injurious stimuli; (ii) suppressing hepatic inflammation; (iii) down-regulating stellate cell activation; and (iv) promoting matrix degradation. The future prospects for effective antifibrotic treatment are more promising than ever for the millions of patients with chronic liver disease worldwide.