Advanced hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) is an important cause of cancer mortality. Epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT) has been shown to be an important biological process in cancer progression and metastasis. We have focused on elucidating factors that induce EMT to promote carcinogenesis and subsequent metastasis in HCC using the BNL CL.2 (BNL) and BNL 1ME A. 7R.1 (1MEA) cell lines. BNL cells are normal hepatocytes whereas the 1MEA cells are HCC cells derived from chemical transformation of the BNL cells. Their morphological characteristics were examined. Expression levels of hepatocyte growth factor (HGF), markers of EMT and mediators of HGF signaling were determined and functional characteristics were compared. BNL cells were treated with HGF and effects on EMT-marker and mediators of HGF signaling were analyzed. BNL cells display characteristic epithelial morphology whereas 1MEA cells display mesenchymal characteristics. 1MEA cells express and secrete more HGF than BNL cells. There was significantly decreased expression of E-cadherin, albumin, AAT and increased expression of fibronectin, collagen-1, vimentin, snail and slug in 1MEA cells. There was also increased expression of cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2), Akt and phosphorylated Akt (pAkt) in 1MEA cells. Moreover, 1MEA cells had increased migratory capacity inhibited by inhibition of COX-2 and Akt but not extracellular signal regulated kinase (ERK). Molecular mesenchymal characteristics of 1MEA cells were reversed by inhibition of COX-2, Akt and ERK. Treatment of BNL cells with HGF led to decreased expression of E-cadherin and increased expression of fibronectin, vimentin, snail, slug, COX-2, Akt, pAkt and increased migration, invasiveness and clonogenicity. We conclude that development of HCC is associated with upregulation of HGF which promotes EMT and carcinogenesis via upregulation of COX-2 and Akt. Consequently, HGF signaling may be targeted for therapy in advanced and metastatic HCC.