Purpose We sought to compare the quality of life (QOL), characteristics, and survival of patients with non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL) with and without human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection. Methods Using the population-based cancer registry for Orange and San Diego Counties, We recruited 50 patients with HIV and systemic NHL (cases) and 50 age, sex and race-matched NHL patients without HIV (controls) diagnosed with NHL during 2002-2006. Patients completed a medical history survey and QOL instrument, the Functional Assessment of Human Immunodeficiency Virus Infection (FAHI) for cases and Functional Assessment of Cancer Therapy-General (FACT G) for controls. Results HIV-infected patients had worse overall QOL and survival than uninfected patients. QOL differences were more marked in the areas of functional, physical and social well-being than in the area of emotional well-being. HIV-infected patients had lower income and were less likely to have private insurance and more likely to have diffuse large B cell histology than uninfected patients. Conclusion HIV-infected NHL patients had worse QOL and survival than uninfected patients, due to a combination of co-morbidity, aggressive histology and lack of social support. However, their emotional well-being was comparable to that of uninfected NHL patients and better than historical norms for the HIV-infected.