Increased fat storage in adipose and non-adipose tissue (e.g. skeletal muscle) characterizes the obese insulin resistant state. Disturbances in pathways of lipolysis may play a role in the development and maintenance of these increased fat stores. A reduced catecholamine-induced lipolysis may contribute to the development and maintenance of increased adipose tissue stores. To data, a reduced hormone-sensitive lipase (HSL) expression is the best characterized defect contributing to this catecholamine resistance. The recently discovered adipose triglyceride lipase (ATGL) seems not to be involved in the catecholamine resistance of lipolysis observed in abdominal subcutaneous adipose tissue of obese subjects, which contrasts with findings in mice studies. So far, little is known on the regulation of skeletal muscle lipolysis. There is evidence of both HSL and ATGL activity and/or expression in skeletal muscle. A blunted fasting and/or catecholamine-induced lipolysis has been reported in skeletal muscle, but data require confirmation. It is tempting to speculate that an imbalance between ATGL and HSL expression results in incomplete lipolysis and increased accumulation of lipid intermediates in skeletal muscle of obese insulin resistant subjects. The latter may inhibit insulin signalling and play a role in the development of type 2 diabetes. This review summarizes the current knowledge on (intracellular) adipose tissue and skeletal muscle lipolysis in obesity, discusses the underlying mechanisms of these disturbances and will finally address the question whether disturbances in the lipolytic pathways may be primary factors in the etiology of obesity or adaptational responses to the obese insulin resistant state.