The aim of this study was to evaluate the efficacy and safety of telbivudine 600 mg/day compared with lamivudine 100 mg/day for 48 weeks of treatment in patients with hepatitis B-related cirrhosis. Data were reviewed retrospectively from 165 hepatitis B-related cirrhotic patients (55 compensated patients and 110 decompensated) who received antiviral therapy with telbivudine or lamivudine. Serum alanine aminotransferase (ALT) and hepatitis B virus (HBV) DNA levels, hepatitis B e antigen (HBeAg) loss and seroconversion, histological improvement and various adverse events (AEs) were evaluated. Baseline characteristics were comparable. ALT levels declined but showed no significant difference in treatment with telbivudine or lamivudine (P > 0.05). Reduction in serum HBV DNA levels was evident by week 4 in compensated HBV-related cirrhosis patients (telbivudine, 2.34 log10 copies/mL; lamivudine, 2.07 log10 copies/mL; P = 0.02) and persisted by week 8. Patients administrated with telbivudine had slightly greater HBeAg loss and seroconversion than patients with lamivudine, but the difference was not statistically significant (P > 0.05). Accumulative HBeAg loss was seen at week 48 (25.0% vs 25.0% and 13.3% vs 10.0% for telbivudine vs lamivudine in compensated and decompensated cirrhotic groups, respectively), as well as HBeAg seroconversion (15.0% vs 8.3% and 8.9% vs 6.7%). Mean Knodell Histologic Activity Index scores decreased in both compensated and decompensated cirrhotic patients (3.92 vs 3.64, 3.85 vs 3.73, for telbivudine vs lamivudine). Telbivudine and lamivudine were both well tolerated with minor AEs. The results of this study support telbivudine as an effective therapy for patients with both compensated and decompensated HBV-related cirrhosis.