An estimated 15–20% of breast cancers overexpress human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER2/ERBB2/neu). Two small-molecule tyrosine kinase inhibitors (TKIs), lapatinib and neratinib, have been approved for the treatment of HER2-positive (HER2+) breast cancer. Lapatinib, a reversible epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR/ERBB1/HER1) and HER2 TKI, is used for the treatment of advanced HER2+ breast cancer in combination with capecitabine, in combination with trastuzumab in patients with hormone receptor-negative metastatic breast cancer, and in combination with an aromatase inhibitor for the first-line treatment of HER2+ breast cancer. Neratinib, a next-generation, irreversible pan-HER TKI, is used in the US for extended adjuvant treatment of adult patients with early-stage HER2+ breast cancer following 1 year of trastuzumab. In Europe, neratinib is used in the extended adjuvant treatment of adult patients with early-stage hormone receptor-positive HER2+ breast cancer who are less than 1 year from the completion of prior adjuvant trastuzumab-based therapy. Preclinical studies have shown that these agents have distinct properties that may impact their clinical activity. This review describes the preclinical characterization of lapatinib and neratinib, with a focus on the differences between these two agents that may have implications for patient management.