Hepatic involvement is commonly observed in arenavirus infections, but the viral determinants of liver disease are only partially understood. Here we exploited newly developed reverse-genetic techniques with Lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus (LCMV), the prototype arenavirus, to address specifically the contribution of the viral glycoprotein (GP) to liver pathogenicity. It is well established that strain WE, but not ARM, causes hepatitis in mice. We found that this property correlated with the superior capacity of WE to propagate in cultured macrophages and hepatocyte-derived cells. In mice, the ability to establish prolonged viraemia allowed the virus to propagate from initially infected Kupffer cells in the liver to neighbouring hepatocytes that underwent apoptosis. Reverse-genetic replacement of the GP in strain ARM with WE-GP resulted in only a very modest increase in liver pathogenicity, if any. Yet, an ARM-derived variant virus with a mutated polymerase gene caused severe liver disease when engineered to display WE-GP but considerably less when expressing ARM-GP. This reverse-genetic approach to an animal model of arenaviral hepatitis reveals a previously underestimated contributory role of the GP that alone is, however, insufficient to cause disease.