A detailed understanding of tRNA/mRNA translocation requires measurement of the forces generated by the ribosome during this movement. Such measurements have so far remained elusive and, thus, little is known about the relation between force and translocation and how this reflects on its mechanism and regulation. Here, we address these questions using optical tweezers to follow translation by individual ribosomes along single mRNA molecules, against an applied force. We find that translocation rates depend exponentially on the force, with a characteristic distance close to the one-codon step, ruling out the existence of sub-steps and showing that the ribosome likely functions as a Brownian ratchet. We show that the ribosome generates ∼13 pN of force, barely sufficient to unwind the most stable structures in mRNAs, thus providing a basis for their regulatory role. Our assay opens the way to characterizing the ribosome s full mechano-chemical cycle.