Abstract Background Heme oxygenase-1 (HO-1), an antioxidant defense enzyme, has been shown to protect against oxidant-induced liver injury. However, its role on liver fibrosis remains unclear. This study aims to elucidate the effect and the mechanism of HO-1 in nutritional fibrosing steatohepatitis in mice. Methods Male C57BL/6J mice were fed with a methionine-choline deficient (MCD) diet for eight weeks to induce hepatic fibrosis. HO-1 chemical inducer (hemin), HO-1 chemical inhibitor zinc protoporphyrin IX (ZnPP-IX) and/or adenovirus carrying HO-1 gene (Ad-HO-1) were administered to mice, respectively. Liver injury was assessed by serum ALT, AST levels and histological examination; hepatic lipid peroxides levels were determined; the expression levels of several fibrogenic related genes... were assayed by real-time quantitative PCR and Western blot. Results MCD feeding mice showed progressive hepatic injury including hepatic steatosis, inflammatory infiltration and fibrosis. Induction of HO-1 by hemin or Ad-HO-1 significantly attenuated the severity of liver injury. This effect was associated with the up-regulation of HO-1, reduction of hepatic lipid peroxides levels, down-regulation of inflammatory factors tumor necrosis factor-alpha, interleukin-6 and suppressor of cytokine signaling-1 as well as the pro-fibrotic genes alpha-smooth muscle actin, transforming growth factor-β1, matrix metallopeptidase-2 and matrix metallopeptidase-9. A contrary effect was observed in mice treated with ZnPP-IX. Conclusions The present study provided the evidence for the protective role of HO-1 in ameliorating MCD diet-induced fibrosing steatohepatitis. Modulation of HO-1 expression might serve as a therapeutic approach for fibrotic steatohepatitis.