C75, a well-known fatty acid synthase (FAS) inhibitor, has been shown to possess potent anti-cancer activity in vitro and in vivo. In this study, we reveal that C75 is a cell cycle arrest inducer and explore the potential mechanisms for this effect in hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) cell lines with abundant FAS expression: HepG2 and SMMC7721 cells with wt-p53, and Hep3B cells with null p53. The results showed FAS protein expression and basal activity levels were higher in HepG2 cells than in the other two HCC cell lines. Treatment with C75 inhibited FAS activity within 30 min of administration and induced G(2) phase arrest accompanied by p53 overexpression in HepG2 and SMMC7721 cells. By contrast, C75 triggered G(1) phase arrest in Hep3B cells, and RNA interference targeting p53 did not attenuate C75-induced G(2) arrest in HepG2 cells. Similarly, p53 overexpression via p53 plasmid transfection did not affect C75-induced G(1) phase arrest in Hep3B cells. However, we observed a clear correlation between p38 MAPK activation triggered by C75 and the induction of cell cycle arrest in all three HCC cells. Furthermore, treatment with the p38 MAPK inhibitor SB203580 reduced p38 MAPK activity and cell cycle arrest, and also partially restored cyclin A, cyclin B1, cyclin D1 and p21 protein levels. Collectively, it was p38 MAPK but not p53 involved in C75-mediated tumor cell growth arrest in HCC cells.