Abstract The quantum mechanical close-coupling formalism is applied to the study of elastic and rotationally inelastic Li + + H 2 collisions making use of the Kutzelnigg-Staemmler-Hoheisel potential energy surface. Integral and differential cross sections for j = 0 → 0 and j = 0 → 2 are obtained in the collision energy range 0.2 to 0.9 eV and for j = 1 → 1 and j = 1 → 3 at 0.6 eV. A rainbow structure is observed in both the elastic and inelastic angular distributions and a quenching of the fast oscillations is found in the cross sections for j = 1 initially compared to the case j = 0 initially. At 0.6 eV. the calculated quantum mechanical angular distributions are compared to those from a classical trajectory calculation using the same surface and to the experimental ones. The dynamics of rotational excitation in the Li + + H 2 system is contrasted to rotational excitation in systems for which the atom-diatom interaction is predominantly repulsive.