The study of experimental colon carcinogenesis in rodents has a long history, dating back almost 80 years. There are many advantages to studying the pathogenesis of carcinogen-induced colon cancer in mouse models, including rapid and reproducible tumor induction and the recapitulation of the adenoma-carcinoma sequence that occurs in humans. The availability of recombinant inbred mouse panels and the existence of transgenic, knock-out and knock-in genetic models further increase the value of these studies. In this review, we discuss the general mechanisms of tumor initiation elicited by commonly used chemical carcinogens and how genetic background influences the extent of disease. We will also describe the general features of lesions formed in response to carcinogen treatment, including the underlying molecular aberrations and how these changes may relate to the pathogenesis of human colorectal cancer.