Laparoscopic cholecystectomy (LC) has gained wide acceptance for treatment of cholelithiasis in preference to open cholecystectomy, though it has not been formally compared with mini cholecystectomy (MC). We have compared these two techniques in a randomised trial. 70 patients with ultrasound-proven cholelithiasis were randomly allocated LC (38) or MC (32); 37 and 25, respectively, underwent the assigned procedure. The mean hospital stay (including 1 preoperative day) was significantly shorter in the LC than the MC group (median 3 [interquartile range 2-3] vs 4 [3-5], p = 0.001) as was duration of convalescence (mean 11.9 [SD 9.1] vs 20.2 [16.5] days, p = 0.04). The rate of return to normal activities was 1.77 times greater in the LC group than in the MC group (95% confidence interval 1.01-3.11, p = 0.03). In regression analysis, the type of cholecystectomy done was the only variable significantly associated with the duration of convalescence. Although there was significant postoperative improvement in all of three quality of life scores in both groups, LC patients improved more quickly than did MC patients. This randomised trial shows the superior effectiveness of LC over MC in treating cholelithiasis.