Transfer RNAs (tRNAs) are essential for mRNA translation. They are transcribed in the nucleus by RNA polymerase III and undergo many modifications before contributing to cytoplasmic protein synthesis. In this review I highlight our understanding of how tRNA biology may be linked to the regulation of mRNA translation, growth and tumorigenesis. First, I review how oncogenes and tumour suppressor signalling pathways, such as the PI3 kinase/TORC1, Ras/ERK, Myc, p53 and Rb pathways, regulate Pol III and tRNA synthesis. In several cases, this regulation contributes to cell, tissue and body growth, and has implications for our understanding of tumorigenesis. Second, I highlight some recent work, particularly in model organisms such as yeast and Drosophila, that shows how alterations in tRNA synthesis may be not only necessary, but also sufficient to drive changes in mRNA translation and growth. These effects may arise due to both absolute increases in total tRNA levels, but also changes in the relative levels of tRNAs in the overall pool. Finally, I review some recent studies that have revealed how tRNA modifications (amino acid acylation, base modifications, subcellular shuttling, and cleavage) can be regulated by growth and stress cues to selectively influence mRNA translation. Together these studies emphasize the importance of the regulation of tRNA synthesis and modification as critical control points in protein synthesis and growth. This article is part of a Special Issue entitled: Translation and Cancer.