Hepatitis C virus (HCV) is the main cause of chronic hepatitis worldwide. Chronic hepatitis ultimately results in the development of hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). However, the mechanism of hepatocarcinogenesis in chronic HCV infection is still unclear. The ability of the core protein of HCV to modulate gene transcription, cell proliferation and cell death may be involved in the pathogenesis of HCC. Here, we report the development of HCC in two independent lines of mice transgenic for the HCV core gene, which develop hepatic steatosis early in life as a histological feature characteristic of chronic hepatitis C. After the age of 16 months, mice of both lines developed hepatic tumors that first appeared as adenomas containing fat droplets in the cytoplasm. Then HCC, a more poorly-differentiated neoplasia, developed from within the adenomas, presenting in a 'nodule-in-nodule' manner without cytoplasmic fat droplets; this closely resembled the histopathological characteristics of the early stage of HCC in patients with chronic hepatitis C. These results indicate that the HCV core protein has a chief role in the development of HCC, and that these transgenic mice provide good animal models for determining the molecular events in hepatocarcinogenesis with HCV infection.