Human T lymphotropic viruses (HTLVs) are complex deltaretroviruses that do not contain a proto-oncogene in their genome, yet are capable of transforming primary T lymphocytes both in vitro and in vivo. There are four known strains of HTLV including HTLV type 1 (HTLV-1), HTLV-2, HTLV-3 and HTLV-4. HTLV-1 is primarily associated with adult T cell leukemia (ATL) and HTLV-1-associated myelopathy/tropical spastic paraparesis (HAM/TSP). HTLV-2 is rarely pathogenic and is sporadically associated with neurological disorders. There have been no diseases associated with HTLV-3 or HTLV-4 to date. Due to the difference in the disease manifestation between HTLV-1 and HTLV-2, a clear understanding of their individual pathobiologies and the role of various viral proteins in transformation should provide insights into better prognosis and prevention strategies. In this review, we aim to summarize the data accumulated so far in the transformation and pathogenesis of HTLV-1, focusing on the viral Tax and HBZ and citing appropriate comparisons to HTLV-2.