(-)-Oleocanthal (OC), a phenolic compound present in extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO), has been implicated in the health benefits associated with diets rich in EVOO. We investigated the effect of OC on human cancer cell lines in culture and found that OC induced cell death in all cancer cells examined as rapidly as 30 minutes after treatment in the absence of serum. OC treatment of non-transformed cells suppressed their proliferation but did not cause cell death. OC induced both primary necrotic and apoptotic cell death via induction of lysosomal membrane permeabilization (LMP). We provide evidence that OC promotes LMP by inhibiting acid sphingomyelinase (ASM) activity, which destabilizes the interaction between proteins required for lysosomal membrane stability. The data presented here indicate that cancer cells, which tend to have fragile lysosomal membranes compared to non-cancerous cells, are susceptible to cell death induced by lysosomotropic agents. Therefore, targeting lysosomal membrane stability represents a novel approach for the induction of cancer-specific cell death.