In situ generated fluorescent gold nanoclusters (Au-NCs) are used for bio-imaging of three human cancer cells, namely, lung (A549), breast (MCF7), and colon (HCT116), by confocal microscopy. The amount of Au-NCs in non-cancer cells (WI38 and MCF10A) is 20-40 times less than those in the corresponding cancer cells. The presence of a larger amount of glutathione (GSH) capped Au-NCs in the cancer cell is ascribed to a higher glutathione level in cancer cells. The Au-NCs exhibit fluorescence maxima at 490-530 nm inside the cancer cells. The fluorescence maxima and matrix-assisted laser desorption ionization (MALDI) mass spectrometry suggest that the fluorescent Au-NCs consist of GSH capped clusters with a core structure (Au8-13). Time-resolved confocal microscopy indicates a nanosecond (1-3 ns) lifetime of the Au-NCs inside the cells. This rules out the formation of aggregated Au-thiolate complexes, which typically exhibit microsecond (≈1000 ns) lifetimes. Fluorescence correlation spectroscopy (FCS) in live cells indicates that the size of the Au-NCs is ≈1-2 nm. For in situ generation, we used a conjugate consisting of a room-temperature ionic liquid (RTIL, [pmim][Br]) and HAuCl4. Cytotoxicity studies indicate that the conjugate, [pmim][AuCl4], is non-toxic for both cancer and non-cancer cells. Bio-imaging: The authors demonstrate the specific generation of fluorescent Au nanoclusters in cancer cells, which can be used as an excellent probe for imaging different cell organelles. © 2016 WILEY-VCH Verlag GmbH & Co. KGaA, Weinheim.