Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), the fastest rising cancer in the United States and increasing in Europe, often occurs with nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH). Mechanisms underlying NASH and NASH-induced HCC are largely unknown. We developed a mouse model recapitulating key features of human metabolic syndrome, NASH, and HCC by long-term feeding of a choline-deficient high-fat diet. This induced activated intrahepatic CD8(+) T cells, NKT cells, and inflammatory cytokines, similar to NASH patients. CD8(+) T cells and NKT cells but not myeloid cells promote NASH and HCC through interactions with hepatocytes. NKT cells primarily cause steatosis via secreted LIGHT, while CD8(+) and NKT cells cooperatively induce liver damage. Hepatocellular LTβR and canonical NF-κB signaling facilitate NASH-to-HCC transition, demonstrating that distinct molecular mechanisms determine NASH and HCC development.