Several features common to a Western lifestyle, including obesity and low levels of physical activity, are known risk factors for gastrointestinal cancers1. There is substantial evidence suggesting that diet markedly affects the composition of the intestinal microbiota2. Moreover, there is now unequivocal evidence linking dysbiosis to cancer development3. However, the mechanisms by which high-fat diet (HFD)-mediated changes in the microbial community affect the severity of tumorigenesis in the gut remain to be determined. Here we demonstrate that an HFD promotes tumour progression in the small intestine of genetically susceptible, K-rasG12Dint, mice independently of obesity. HFD consumption, in conjunction with K-ras mutation, mediated a shift in the composition of the gut microbiota, and this shift was associated with a decrease in Paneth-cell-mediated antimicrobial host defence that compromised dendritic cell recruitment and MHC class II molecule presentation in the gut-associated lymphoid tissues. When butyrate was administered to HFD-fed K-rasG12Dint mice, dendritic cell recruitment in the gut-associated lymphoid tissues was normalized, and tumour progression was attenuated. Importantly, deficiency in MYD88, a signalling adaptor for pattern recognition receptors and Toll-like receptors, blocked tumour progression. The transfer of faecal samples from HFD-fed mice with intestinal tumours to healthy adult K-rasG12Dint mice was sufficient to transmit disease in the absence of an HFD. Furthermore, treatment with antibiotics completely blocked HFD-induced tumour progression, suggesting that distinct shifts in the microbiota have a pivotal role in aggravating disease. Collectively, these data underscore the importance of the reciprocal interaction between host and environmental factors in selecting a microbiota that favours carcinogenesis, and they suggest that tumorigenesis is transmissible among genetically predisposed individuals.