The pathogenesis of liver cirrhosis is not completely elucidated. Although in the majority of patients, the risk factors may be identified in B and C viral hepatitis, alcohol intake, drugs or fatty liver disease, there is a small percentage of patients with no apparent risk factors. In addition, the evolution of chronic liver disease is highly heterogeneous from one patient to another. Among patient with identical risk factors, some rapidly progress to cirrhosis and hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) whereas others have a benign course. Therefore, a genetic predisposition may contribute to the development of cirrhosis and HCC. Evidence supporting the role of genetic factors as a risk for cirrhosis has been accumulating during the past years. In addition to the results from epidemiological studies, polymorphisms studies and data on twins, the concept of telomere shortening as a genetic risk factor for chronic liver disease and HCC has been proposed. Here we review the literature on telomerase mutations, telomere shortening and liver disease including hepatocellular carcinoma.