The medial temporal lobe includes a system of anatomically related structures that are essential for declarative memory (conscious memory for facts and events). The system consists of the hippocampal region (CA fields, dentate gyrus, and subicular complex) and the adjacent perirhinal, entorhinal, and parahippocampal cortices. Here, we review findings from humans, monkeys, and rodents that illuminate the function of these structures. Our analysis draws on studies of human memory impairment and animal models of memory impairment, as well as neurophysiological and neuroimaging data, to show that this system (a) is principally concerned with memory, (b) operates with neocortex to establish and maintain long-term memory, and (c) ultimately, through a process of consolidation, becomes independent of long-term memory, though questions remain about the role of perirhinal and parahippocampal cortices in this process and about spatial memory in rodents. Data from neurophysiology, neuroimaging, and neuroanatomy point to a division of labor within the medial temporal lobe. However, the available data do not support simple dichotomies between the functions of the hippocampus and the adjacent medial temporal cortex, such as associative versus nonassociative memory, episodic versus semantic memory, and recollection versus familiarity.