The term cerebral small vessel disease (SVD) describes a range of neuroimaging, pathological, and associated clinical features. Clinical features range from none, to discrete focal neurological symptoms (eg, stroke), to insidious global neurological dysfunction and dementia. The burden on public health is substantial. The pathogenesis of SVD is largely unknown. Although the pathological processes leading to the arteriolar disease are associated with vascular risk factors and are believed to result from an intrinsic cerebral arteriolar occlusive disease, little is known about how these processes result in brain disease, how SVD lesions contribute to neurological or cognitive symptoms, and the association with risk factors. Pathology often shows end-stage disease, which makes identification of the earliest stages difficult. Neuroimaging provides considerable insights; although the small vessels are not easily seen themselves, the effects of their malfunction on the brain can be tracked with detailed brain imaging. We discuss potential mechanisms, detectable with neuroimaging, that might better fit the available evidence and provide testable hypotheses for future study.