Sarcopenic obesity is regarded as a risk factor for the progression and development of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). Since male sex is a risk factor for NAFLD and skeletal muscle mass markedly varies between the sexes, we examined whether sex influences the association between appendicular skeletal muscle mass to visceral fat area ratio (SVR), that is, an index of skeletal muscle mass combined with abdominal obesity, and the histological severity of NAFLD. The SVR was measured by bioelectrical impedance in a cohort of 613 (M/F = 443/170) Chinese middle-aged individuals with biopsy-proven NAFLD. Multivariable logistic regression and subgroup analyses were used to test the association between SVR and the severity of NAFLD (i.e. non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) or NASH with the presence of any stage of liver fibrosis). NASH was identified by a NAFLD activity score ≥5, with a minimum score of 1 for each of its categories. The presence of fibrosis was classified as having a histological stage ≥1. The SVR was inversely associated with NASH in men (adjusted OR 0·62; 95 % CI 0·42, 0·92, P = 0·017 for NASH, adjusted OR 0·65; 95 % CI 0·43, 0·99, P = 0·043 for NASH with the presence of fibrosis), but not in women (1·47 (95 % CI 0·76, 2·83), P = 0·25 for NASH, and 1·45 (95 % CI 0·74, 2·83), P = 0·28 for NASH with the presence of fibrosis). There was a significant interaction for sex and SVR (Pinteraction = 0·017 for NASH and Pinteraction = 0·033 for NASH with the presence of fibrosis). Our findings show that lower skeletal muscle mass combined with abdominal obesity is strongly associated with the presence of NASH only in men.