Healthy cartilage is a highly robust tissue, and is resilient against the stringent mechanical and biological constraints imposed upon it. Cartilage defects are common features of joint diseases, but current treatments can rarely restore the full function of native cartilage. Recent studies have provided new perspectives for cartilage engineering using mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs). However, the sequential events occurring during chondrogenesis must be fully understood before we are able to reproduce faithfully the complex molecular events that lead to MSC differentiation and long-term maintenance of cartilage characteristics. Here, we focus on the potential of MSCs to repair cartilage with an emphasis on the factors that are known to be required in inducing chondrogenesis.