High-mobility group box 1 (HMGB1) functions as a proinflammatory cytokine and is one of the most intriguing molecules in inflammatory disorders and cancers. Notably, HMGB1 is a potential therapeutic target and novel biomarker in related diseases. However, the diagnostic value of HMGB1 for benign and malignant asbestos-related diseases (ARDs) remains unclear. In this work, we detected preoperative serum HMGB1 levels in Chinese asbestos-exposed (AE) and ARDs populations and further evaluated the diagnostic value of HMGB1 in patients with certain types of ARDs, including those with pleural plaques, asbestosis, or malignant mesothelioma (MM). The experimental data presented that the serum level of HMGB1 was significantly elevated in AE and ARDs subjects. Our findings indicated that serum HMGB1 is a sensitive and specific biomarker for discriminating asbestosis- and MM-affected individuals from healthy or AE individuals. In addition, serum matrix metalloproteinases 2 and 9 are not correlated with HMGB1 in ARDs. Thus, our study provides supporting evidence for HMGB1 as a potential biomarker either for the clinical diagnosis of high-risk AE cohorts or for evaluating ARDs.