One quarter of the global population is estimated to have nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). The incidence of nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) is projected to increase by up to 56% in the next 10 years. NAFLD is already the fastest growing cause of hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) in the USA, France and the UK. Globally, the prevalence of NAFLD-related HCC is likely to increase concomitantly with the growing obesity epidemic. The estimated annual incidence of HCC ranges from 0.5% to 2.6% among patients with NASH cirrhosis. The incidence of HCC among patients with non-cirrhotic NAFLD is lower, approximately 0.1 to 1.3 per 1,000 patient-years. Although the incidence of NAFLD-related HCC is lower than that of HCC of other aetiologies such as hepatitis C, more people have NAFLD than other liver diseases. Urgent measures that increase global awareness and tackle the metabolic risk factors are necessary to reduce the impending burden of NAFLD-related HCC. Emerging evidence indicates that reduced immune surveillance, increased gut inflammation and gut dysbiosis are potential key steps in tumorigenesis. In this Review, we discuss the global epidemiology, projections and risk factors for NAFLD-related HCC, and propose preventive strategies to tackle this growing problem.