Atypical food intake is a primary cause of obesity and other eating and metabolic disorders. Insight into the neural control of feeding has previously focused mainly on signalling mechanisms associated with the hypothalamus, the major centre in the brain that regulates body weight homeostasis. However, roles of non-canonical central nervous system signalling mechanisms in regulating feeding behaviour have been largely uncharacterized. Acetylcholine has long been proposed to influence feeding owing in part to the functional similarity between acetylcholine and nicotine, a known appetite suppressant. Nicotine is an exogenous agonist for acetylcholine receptors, suggesting that endogenous cholinergic signalling may play a part in normal physiological regulation of feeding. However, it remains unclear how cholinergic neurons in the brain regulate food intake. Here we report that cholinergic neurons of the mouse basal forebrain potently influence food intake and body weight. Impairment of cholinergic signalling increases food intake and results in severe obesity, whereas enhanced cholinergic signalling decreases food consumption. We found that cholinergic circuits modulate appetite suppression on downstream targets in the hypothalamus. Together our data reveal the cholinergic basal forebrain as a major modulatory centre underlying feeding behaviour.