Hepatic stellate cells (HSC), the key fibrogenic cells of the liver, transdifferentiate into myofibroblasts upon phagocytosis of apoptotic hepatocytes. Galectin-3, a β-galactoside-binding lectin, is a regulator of the phagocytic process. In this study, our aim was to study the mechanism by which extracellular galectin-3 modulates HSC phagocytosis and activation. The role of galectin-3 in engulfment was evaluated by phagocytosis and integrin binding assays in primary HSC. Galectin-3 expression was studied by real-time PCR and enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay, and in vivo studies were done in wild-type and galectin-3(-/-) mice. We found that HSC from galectin-3(-/-) mice displayed decreased phagocytic activity, expression of transforming growth factor-β1, and procollagen α1(I). Recombinant galectin-3 reversed this defect, suggesting that extracellular galectin-3 is required for HSC activation. Galectin-3 facilitated the α(v)β(3) heterodimer-dependent binding, indicating that galectin-3 modulates HSC phagocytosis via cross-linking this integrin and enhancing the tethering of apoptotic cells. Blocking integrin α(v)β(3) resulted in decreased phagocytosis. Galectin-3 expression and release were induced in active HSC engulfing apoptotic cells, and this was mediated by the nuclear factor-κB signaling. The upregulation of galectin-3 in active HSC was further confirmed in vivo in bile duct-ligated (BDL) rats. Galectin-3(-/-) mice displayed significantly decreased fibrosis, with reduced expression of α-smooth muscle actin and procollagen α1(I) following BDL. In summary, extracellular galectin-3 plays a key role in liver fibrosis by mediating HSC phagocytosis, activation, and subsequent autocrine and paracrine signaling by a feedforward mechanism.