A Western diet induces insulin resistance, liver steatosis (non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD)) and intestinal dysbiosis, leading to increased gut permeability and bacterial translocation, thus contributing to the progression of NAFLD to non-alcoholic steatohepatitis. In the present study, we sought, in a model of Western diet-induced NAFLD, to determine whether citrulline (Cit), an amino acid that regulates protein and energy metabolism, could decrease Western diet-induced liver injuries, as well as the mechanisms involved. Sprague–Dawley rats were fed a high-fat diet (45 %) and fructose (30 %) in drinking water or a control diet associated with water (group C) for 8 weeks. The high-fat, high-fructose diet (Western diet) was fed either alone (group WD) or with Cit (1 g/kg per d) (group WDC) or an isonitrogenous amount of non-essential amino acids (group WDA). We evaluated nutritional and metabolic status, liver function, intestinal barrier function, gut microbiota and splanchnic inflammatory status. Cit led to a lower level of hepatic TAG restricted to microvesicular lipid droplets and to a lower mRNA expression of CCAAT-enhancer-binding protein homologous protein, a marker of endoplasmic reticulum stress, of pro-inflammatory cytokines Il6 (P<0·05) and Tnfα, and of toll-like receptor 4 (Tlr4) (P<0·05). Cit also improved plasma TAG and insulin levels. In the colon, it decreased inflammation (Tnfα and Tlr4 expressions) and increased claudin-1 protein expression. This was associated with higher levels of Bacteroides/Prevotella compared with rats fed the Western diet alone. Cit improves Western diet-induced liver injuries via decreased lipid deposition, increased insulin sensitivity, lower inflammatory process and preserved antioxidant status. This may be related in part to its protective effects at the gut level.