Brown adipose tissue (BAT) and beige adipose tissue combust fuels for heat production in adult humans, and so constitute an appealing target for the treatment of metabolic disorders such as obesity, diabetes and hyperlipidemia. Cold exposure can enhance energy expenditure by activating BAT, and it has been shown to improve nutrient metabolism. These therapies, however, are time consuming and uncomfortable, demonstrating the need for pharmacological interventions. Recently, lipids have been identified that are released from tissues and act locally or systemically to promote insulin sensitivity and glucose tolerance; as a class, these lipids are referred to as 'lipokines'. Because BAT is a specialized metabolic tissue that takes up and burns lipids and is linked to systemic metabolic homeostasis, we hypothesized that there might be thermogenic lipokines that activate BAT in response to cold. Here we show that the lipid 12,13-dihydroxy-9Z-octadecenoic acid (12,13-diHOME) is a stimulator of BAT activity, and that its levels are negatively correlated with body-mass index and insulin sensitivity. Using a global lipidomic analysis, we found that 12,13-diHOME was increased in the circulation of humans and mice exposed to cold. Furthermore, we found that the enzymes that produce 12,13-diHOME were uniquely induced in BAT by cold stimulation. The injection of 12,13-diHOME acutely activated BAT fuel uptake and enhanced cold tolerance, which resulted in decreased levels of serum triglycerides. Mechanistically, 12,13-diHOME increased fatty acid (FA) uptake into brown adipocytes by promoting the translocation of the FA transporters FATP1 and CD36 to the cell membrane. These data suggest that 12,13-diHOME, or a functional analog, could be developed as a treatment for metabolic disorders.