The current status of the much-debated question of the still-hypothetical stem cells of the liver is reviewed, with an emphasis on their role in hepatocarcinogenesis. The widely held view of the primacy of the hepatocyte, notably of the mononuclear diploid type, in this process--the "hepatocytic theory"--has been compared with variants of the "stem cell hypothesis" based on the "non-parenchymal epithelial cells" of the liver--the "oval" or biliary ductular cells, the "nondescript periductular" cells and the "primitive" bipotential epithelial cells. An attempt has been made to concentrate mainly on the more recent publications, in an effort to balance the conflicting opinions expressed by comparing results obtained by the newer procedures currently in use. Despite some interesting and relevant findings it appears that the evidence in favour of the stem-cell hypothesis is still circumstantial and that the hepatocytic theory has not been invalidated. Presumably the question of the hepatic stem cells will be answered when the riddle of hepatocarcinogenesis has been solved.