Liver failure with hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis (HLH) is a life-threatening syndrome with high mortality. The aim of this study was to decipher clinical and laboratory characteristics of hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis after definite diagnosis of liver failure and to provide clues for early diagnosis and treatment of HLH in patients with liver failure. Eleven patients diagnosed with liver failure and HLH were retrospectively investigated in this study. All patients presented with jaundice, persistent high-grade fever, pancytopenia, splenomegaly, evidence of hemophagocytes in the bone marrow and laboratory abnormalities indicating HLH. The average interval from the earliest diagnosis of liver failure to a definitive diagnosis of HLH was 17.27 days. Six (54.55%) patients died during follow-up. For patients with liver failure after admission and subsequently definitively diagnosed with HLH, bilirubin and INR were significantly decreased. HLH is definitely diagnosed at an intermediate or late stage when patients have already suffered from liver failure. The initial dose of glucocorticoid (methylprednisolone) was decreased to 1-1.5 mg/kg/d and gradually reduced thereafter. In conclusion, for patients with liver failure, HLH should be screened as early as possible upon persistent fever, splenomegaly and unexplained pancytopenia. For patients with liver failure and HLH, the dosage of glucocorticoid should be reduced to avoid serious side effects.