Abstract Background Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) is a typical malignancy in a background of chronic inflammation. Th17 cells (a major source of IL-17) constitute crucial components of infiltrating inflammatory/immune cells in HCC and can amplify inflammatory response via binding to interleukin-17 receptor (IL-17R). Thus, we investigated the expression and clinical significance of IL-17 and IL-17 receptor family cytokines in HCC. Methods The expression and prognostic value of IL-17 and IL-17R (A-E) were examined in 300 HCC patients after resection. Six Th17 associated cytokines in serum (n = 111) were quantified using enzyme-linked immunosorbent assays. Phenotypic features of IL-17+ CD4+ T cells were determined by flow cytometry analysis. Results High expression of intratumoral IL-17 and IL1-7RE were significantly associated with poorer survival (p = 0.016 and <0.001, respectively) and increased recurrence (both P < 0.001) of HCC patients. Moreover, intratumoral IL-17, individually or synergistically with IL-17RE, could predict HCC early recurrence and late recurrence. Also, peritumoral IL-17RE showed the prognostic ability in HCC (P < 0.001 for OS/TTR). Furthermore, expression levels of Th17 associated cytokines including IL-6, -22, -17R and TNF-α were increased in serum of HCC patients compared to haemangioma patients. Importantly, activated human hepatic stellate cells induced in vitro expansion of IL-17+ CD4+ T cells. Conclusions High expression of IL-17 and IL-17RE were promising predictors for poor outcome of HCC patients. The protumor power of IL-17 producing CD4+ T cells was probably involved in the crosstalk with different types of inflammatory/immune cells in HCC.