Abstract The susceptibility to hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) varies greatly within human populations in response to environmental risk agents. The mechanisms underlying differential susceptibility are still largely unknown and need to be clarified to improve HCC chemoprevention and therapeutic treatment. Inbred rodent strains with established predispositions for hepatocarcinogenesis offer the opportunity to identify intrinsic susceptibility and resistance factors. Previously, we have characterized mouse strains showing differential susceptibility to o-aminoazotoluene (OAT) and established that susceptibility does not result from OAT metabolism or genotoxicity in the livers of resistant and susceptible mice. In this study we have found that OAT differently affects hepatocyte proliferation in mice after partial hepatectomy (PH). OAT inhibited hepatocyte proliferation by 60–80% in the livers of susceptible mice, whereas resistant mice showed less than 15% inhibition. The inhibition resulted in significant delay of hepatic mass recovery in susceptible mice. OAT induced p53 stabilization and transcriptional activation in response to carcinogen treatment to the same degree in both, susceptible and resistant mice. Taken together, our data support inhibition of hepatocyte proliferation as a major cause for increased mouse susceptibility to hepatocarcinogenesis, and acceleration of functional liver recovery may offer a way to increase resistance to hepatic neoplasms. These results may have relevance to clinical observations of HCCs and implications for HCC chemoprevention and treatment.