Obesity and resistance to insulin are closely associated with the development of low-grade inflammation. Interleukin 6 (IL-6) is linked to obesity-associated inflammation; however, its role in this context remains controversial. Here we found that mice with an inactivated gene encoding the IL-6Rα chain of the receptor for IL-6 in myeloid cells (Il6ra(Δmyel) mice) developed exaggerated deterioration of glucose homeostasis during diet-induced obesity, due to enhanced resistance to insulin. Tissues targeted by insulin showed increased inflammation and a shift in macrophage polarization. IL-6 induced expression of the receptor for IL-4 and augmented the response to IL-4 in macrophages in a cell-autonomous manner. Il6ra(Δmyel) mice were resistant to IL-4-mediated alternative polarization of macrophages and exhibited enhanced susceptibility to lipopolysaccharide (LPS)-induced endotoxemia. Our results identify signaling via IL-6 as an important determinant of the alternative activation of macrophages and assign an unexpected homeostatic role to IL-6 in limiting inflammation.