Frontotemporal dementia (FTD) and Huntington's disease (HD) are degenerative disorders, with predominant involvement, respectively of frontal neocortex and striatum. Both conditions give rise to altered social conduct and breakdown in interpersonal relationships, although the factors underlying these changes remain poorly defined. The study used tests of theory of mind (interpretation of cartoons and stories and judgement of preference based on eye gaze) to explore the ability of patients with FTD and HD to interpret social situations and ascribe mental states to others. Performance in the FTD group was severely impaired on all tasks, regardless of whether the test condition required attribution of a mental state. The HD group showed a milder impairment in cartoon and story interpretation, and normal preference judgements. Qualitative differences in performance were demonstrated between groups. FTD patients made more concrete, literal interpretations, whereas HD patients were more likely to misconstrue situations. The findings are interpreted as demonstrating impaired theory of mind in FTD, as one component of widespread executive deficits. In HD the evidence does not suggest a fundamental loss of theory of mind, but rather a tendency to draw faulty inferences from social situations. It is concluded that social breakdown in FTD and HD may have a different underlying basis and that the frontal neocortex and striatum have distinct contributions to social behaviour.