OBJECTIVES: This study examines the association between social relationships and health-related quality of life (HRQL) in the elderly in Lazio Region, Italy, a Mediterranean country where the shape and role of social links has dramatically changed. METHODS: Data were extracted from a national cross-sectional survey in Italy, representative of the non-institutionalised population aged 60 years and over resident in Lazio Region during 1999--2000. HRQL was measured with the Short Health Survey Questionnaire (SF-12). Data analysis was performed using multiple linear regression models using adjustment for the main confounders. RESULTS: Among the sample, 40.4% of the elderly were not married and 27.1 % were living alone. While being married and not living alone were associated with higher scores in the physical and mental quality-of-life components (P-value<0.001), more frequent visiting/seeing friends was likely to be associated with higher scores in both the physical and the mental health components (P-value<0.05). Multiple logistic regression analysis demonstrated that low physical health scores were associated with a low frequency of meeting with relatives and with living far from relatives. CONCLUSIONS: In a region covering 9.2% of the whole Italian population, only a small proportion of the elderly lack frequent social ties, yet low frequency of relationships with friends is associated with a decline in quality of life measured through mental and physical scores. Our findings will be useful for drawing up welfare strategies both at the national and at the Mediterranean level, in countries, like Italy, where the primacy of family support of the elderly has been decreasing in recent years.