The liver has vital metabolic and clearance functions that involve the uptake of nutrients, waste products and pathogens from the blood. In addition, its unique immunoregulatory functions mediated by local expression of co-inhibitory receptors and immunosuppressive mediators help to prevent inadvertent organ damage. However, these tolerogenic properties render the liver an attractive target site for pathogens. Although most pathogens that reach the liver via the blood are eliminated or controlled by local innate and adaptive immune responses, some pathogens (such as hepatitis viruses) can escape immune control and persist in hepatocytes, causing substantial morbidity and mortality worldwide. Here, we review our current knowledge of the mechanisms of liver targeting by pathogens and describe the interplay between pathogens and host factors that promote pathogen elimination and maintain organ integrity or that allow pathogen persistence.