Hepatic steatosis may be both an adaptive phenomenon and an example of lipotoxicity. Its prevalence ranks in the same order of magnitude of insulin resistance in the general population. Studies support the finding that hepatic steatosis is secondary to insulin resistance and not vice versa. A steatotic liver will further contribute to the development of insulin resistance through impaired clearance of insulin from the portal blood, creating a vicious cycle. Insulin resistance is the leading force in the pathogenesis and natural history of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. Dysfunction of energetic homeostasis and the interaction of adiponectin, leptin and tumour necrosis factor-α are key events in the pathogenesis of steatosis and insulin resistance. Insulin resistance represents the frame within which hepatic and extrahepatic non-alcoholic fatty liver disease-related clinical manifestations are to be anticipated and interpreted.