The activation of carbon-carbon (C-C) bonds is an effective strategy in building functional molecules. The C-C bond activation is typically accomplished via metal catalysis, with which high levels of enantioselectivity are difficult to achieve due to high reactivity of metal catalysts and the metal-bound intermediates. It remains largely unexplored to use organocatalysis for C-C bond activation. Here we describe an organocatalytic activation of C-C bonds through the addition of an NHC to a ketone moiety that initiates a C-C single bond cleavage as a key step to generate an NHC-bound intermediate for chemo- and stereo-selective reactions. This reaction constitutes an asymmetric functionalization of cyclobutenones using organocatalysts via a C-C bond activation process. Structurally diverse and multicyclic compounds could be obtained with high optical purities via an atom and redox economic process. © 2015 Macmillan Publishers Limited. All rights reserved.