Disease is a ubiquitous and powerful evolutionary force. Hosts have evolved behavioural and physiological responses to disease that are associated with increased survival. Behavioural modifications, known as ‘sickness behaviours’, frequently involve symptoms such as lethargy, somnolence and anorexia. Current research has demonstrated that the social environment is a potent modulator of these behaviours: when conflicting social opportunities arise, animals can decrease or entirely forgo experiencing sickness symptoms. Here, I review how different social contexts, such as the presence of mates, caring for offspring, competing for territories or maintaining social status, affect the expression of sickness behaviours. Exploiting the circumstances that promote this behavioural plasticity will provide new insights into the evolutionary ecology of social behaviours. A deeper understanding of when and how this modulation takes place may lead to better tools to treat symptoms of infection and be relevant for the development of more efficient disease control programmes.