BACKGROUND: Automated image analysis enables quantitative measurement of steatosis in histological images. However, spatial heterogeneity of steatosis can make quantitative steatosis scores unreliable. To improve the reliability, we have developed novel scores that are "focused" on steatotic tissue areas. METHODS: Focused scores use concepts of tile-based hotspot analysis in order to compute statistics about steatotic tissue areas in an objective way. We evaluated focused scores on three data sets of images of rodent liver sections exhibiting different amounts of dietary-induced steatosis. The same evaluation was conducted with the standard steatosis score computed by most image analysis methods. RESULTS: The standard score reliably discriminated large differences in steatosis (intraclass correlation coefficient ICC = 0.86), but failed to discriminate small (ICC = 0.54) and very small (ICC = 0.14) differences. With an appropriate tile size, mean-based focused scores reliably discriminated large (ICC = 0.92), small (ICC = 0.86) and very small (ICC = 0.83) differences. Focused scores based on high percentiles showed promise in further improving the discrimination of very small differences (ICC = 0.93). CONCLUSIONS: Focused scores enable reliable discrimination of small differences in steatosis in histological images. They are conceptually simple and straightforward to use in research studies.