Hepatic mitochondrial function was studied in lean and obese Zucker rats in the fed state and at 3 and 6 days of starvation. No significant differences in state 3 mitochondrial oxidative rates were found due to obesity or starvation. Palmitoylcarnitine utilization rates in mitochondria were unaffected by obesity or starvation; however, when expressed per gram liver weight, they were lower in the obese rats due to the decreased amount of mitochondrial protein per gram liver. For palmitoylcarnitine oxidation and acetoacetate and citrate production, the patterns were the same: per milligram mitochondrial protein, both lean and obese rates were equivalent; per total liver, the obese rates were higher; per gram liver, the obese rates were lower. Mitochondrial carnitine palmitoyltransferase specific activity was higher in fed obese than in lean rats and remained higher during starvation. The results indicate that mitochondrial capacity to oxidize fatty acids and to produce keto acids is not affected by genetic obesity or starvation. The differences in fatty acid oxidation and keto acid production that have been observed in hepatocytes and perfused liver might be explained by decreased mitochondrial protein per unit weight of liver or hepatocytes in obese rats.