The treatment of liver injuries or hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) has been hindered by the lack of efficient drug delivery. Even with the help of nanoparticles or other synthetic delivering agents, a large portion of the dose is still sequestered in the reticuloendothelial system. As an alternative, adipose-derived mesenchymal cells (AD-MSCs), which have the capability of homing to the injured liver, can be used as a unique carrier for theranostic agents. Theranostic agents must have the capacity for being non-toxic to host cells during transportation, and for timely activation once they arrive at the injury sites. In this study, we loaded AD-MSCs with superparamagnetic iron oxide-coated gold nanoparticles (SPIO@AuNPs) and tested their effects against liver injury and HCC in cells and in mice. SPIO@AuNP is a non-toxic magnetic resonance (MR)-active contrast agent that can generate heat when irradiated with near-infrared laser. Our results showed that SPIO@AuNPs were successfully transfected into AD-MSCs without compromising either cell viability (P > 0.05) or cell differentiability. In vivo MR imaging and histologic analysis confirmed the active homing of AD-MSCs. Upon laser irradiation, the SPIO@AuNP-loaded AD-MSCs could thermally ablate surrounding HCC tumor cells. SPIO@AuNP-loaded AD-MSCs proved a promising theranostic approach for injured liver and HCC.