During a hot rolling process, surface defects on strips can severely affect the quality of the rolled product, particularly for two conditions: (1) there are initial defects on continuous casting slabs that propagate and/or are inherited from those on the surface of rolled steels from upstream rolling processes; and (2) there are no initial defects on continuous casting slabs, and they consequently appear on the surface of rolled steels due to improper rolling technologies. In this paper, the authors present a new 3D finite element model coupled with constrained node failure to understand better the initiation and growth of surface defects on strips during the hot rolling process for case 2. The strip deformation processes were simulated for various rolling reduction ratios and friction coefficients between the roll and the strip. The occurrence of surface defects on strips was modeled under some rolling conditions. The plastic strain distribution in strips and the rolling forces were obtained. The risk of occurrence of surface defects on strips increases as the friction between the roll and strip increases for the same reduction ratio. © 2012 Springer-Verlag London.