The cell wall determines the shape of plant cells and is also the primary interface for pathogen interactions. The structure of the cell wall can be modified in response to developmental and environmental cues, for example to strengthen the wall and to create barriers to pathogen ingress. The ectopic lignin 1-1 and 1-2 (eli1-1 and eli1-2) mutations lead to an aberrant deposition of lignin, a complex phenylpropanoid polymer. We show that the eli1 mutants occur in the cellulose synthase gene CESA3 in Arabidopsis thaliana and cause reduced cellulose synthesis, providing further evidence for the function of multiple CESA subunits in cellulose synthesis. We show that reduced levels of cellulose synthesis, caused by mutations in cellulose synthase genes and in genes affecting cell expansion, activate lignin synthesis and defense responses through jasmonate and ethylene and other signaling pathways. These observations suggest that mechanisms monitoring cell wall integrity can activate lignification and defense responses.