Fibroblast growth factor 21 (Fgf21) has emerged as a potential plasma marker to diagnose non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). To study the molecular processes underlying the association of plasma Fgf21 with NAFLD, we explored the liver transcriptome data of a mild NAFLD model of aging C57BL/6J mice at 12, 24, and 28 months of age. The plasma Fgf21 level significantly correlated with intrahepatic triglyceride content. At the molecular level, elevated plasma Fgf21 levels were associated with dysregulated metabolic and cancer-related pathways. The up-regulated Fgf21 levels in NAFLD were implied to be a protective response against the NAFLD-induced adverse effects, e.g. lipotoxicity, oxidative stress and endoplasmic reticulum stress. An in vivo PPARalpha challenge demonstrated the dysregulation of PPARalpha signalling in the presence of NAFLD, which resulted in a stochastically increasing hepatic expression of Fgf21. Notably, elevated plasma Fgf21 was associated with declining expression of Klb, Fgf21’s crucial co-receptor, which suggests a resistance to Fgf21. Therefore, although liver fat accumulation is a benign stage of NAFLD, the elevated plasma Fgf21 likely indicated vulnerability to metabolic stressors that may contribute towards progression to end-stage NAFLD. In conclusion, plasma levels of Fgf21 reflect liver fat accumulation and dysregulation of metabolic pathways in the liver.