High-throughput screening of small molecules is used extensively in pharmaceutical settings for the purpose of drug discovery. In the case of antimicrobials, this involves the identification of small molecules that are significantly more toxic to the microbe than to the host. Only a small percentage of the small molecules identified in these screens have been studied in sufficient detail to explain the molecular basis of their antimicrobial effect. Rarer still are small molecule screens undertaken with the explicit goal of learning more about the biology of a particular microbe or the mechanism of its interaction with its host. Recent technological advances in small molecule synthesis and high-throughput screening have made such mechanism-directed small molecule approaches a powerful and accessible experimental option. In this article, we provide an overview of the methods and technical requirements and we discuss the potential of small molecule approaches to address important and often otherwise experimentally intractable problems in cellular microbiology.