We ascertained villagers' perceptions about the importance of forests for their livelihoods and health through 1,837 reliably answered interviews of mostly male respondents from 185 villages in Indonesian and Malaysian Borneo. Variation in these perceptions related to several environmental and social variables, as shown in classification and regression analyses. Overall patterns indicated that forest use and cultural values are highest among people on Borneo who live close to remaining forest, and especially among older Christian residents. Support for forest clearing depended strongly on the scale at which deforestation occurs. Deforestation for small-scale agriculture was generally considered to be positive because it directly benefits people's welfare. Large-scale deforestation (e.g., for industrial oil palm or acacia plantations), on the other hand, appeared to be more context-dependent, with most respondents considering it to have overall negative impacts on them, but with people in some areas considering the benefits to outweigh the costs. The interviews indicated high awareness of negative environmental impacts of deforestation, with high levels of concern over higher temperatures, air pollution and loss of clean water sources. Our study is unique in its geographic and trans-national scale. Our findings enable the development of maps of forest use and perceptions that could inform land use planning at a range of scales. Incorporating perspectives such as these could significantly reduce conflict over forest resources and ultimately result in more equitable development processes.