Abstract Background HIV counseling and testing is an important intervention in the prevention, control and management of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). Counseling and testing can be an entry point for prevention, care and support. Knowledge of the quality of services and motivations for testing by individuals is important for effective understanding of the testing environment. Methods A cross sectional explorative study of clients accessing HIV voluntary counseling and testing (VCT) and counselors was conducted in 6 government health centers in Blantyre City, Malawi. We aimed to assess the availability of critical clinic supplies and identify the motivations of clients seeking counseling and testing services. We also aimed to identify the health professional cadres that were providing VCT in Blantyre city. Results 102 VCT clients and 26 VCT counselors were interviewed. Among the VCT clients, 74% were <=29 years, 58.8% were females and only 7% reported no formal education. 42.2% were single, 45.1% married, 8.8% widowed and 3.9% divorced or separated. The primary reasons for seeking HIV counseling and testing were: recent knowledge about HIV (31.4%), current illness (22.5%), self-assessment of own behavior as risky (15.5%), suspecting sexual partner's infidelity (13.7%) and seeking HIV confirmatory test (9.8%) and other reasons (6.9%). Of the 26 VCT counselors, 14 were lay volunteers, 7 health surveillance assistants and 5 nurses. All except one had been trained specifically for HIV counseling and testing. All 6 facilities were conducting rapid HIV testing with same day test results provided to clients. Most of the supplies were considered adequate for testing. Conclusion HIV counseling and testing facilities were available in Blantyre city in all the six public health facilities assessed. The majority of counseling and testing clients were motivated by perceptions of being at risk of HIV infection. In a country with 12% of individuals 15 to 49 years infected, there is need to encourage testing among population groups that may not perceive themselves to be at risk of infection.