Saying that North Carolina Gov. James B. Hunt Jr. was "insistent" that Joan Little be returned, New York Gov. Hugh L. Carey yesterday said he would order her extradition back here to face escape charges and resume serving a breaking-and-entering sentence.

Attorneys for Little, who is free on $51,000 bond, say they will fight the extradition order in the New York courts.

Little, 23, gained international attention in 1975 when she was tried and aquitted of charges that she killed a jailor in Beauford County, N.C., who she said tried to rape her.

After the trial. Little resumed serving a 7-to-10-year sentence for breaking and entering. However, she escaped from a Raleigh prison last October, fleeing to New York, where she was captured two months later.

Hunt issued a statement from his office here saying that North Carolina law requires the state to seek the return of any escaped prisoner, and said Little's case was handled "routinely."

However, in an unusual move, Hunt and Carey discussed the case last week by telephone, according to aides to both governors. Carey, who faces reelection this year and has been under some pressure from New York activists to reject extradition, reportedly asked Hunt whether the North Carolina governor really wanted Little back, and Hunt then insisted he did.

An aide to Carey minimized the political impact of signing the extradition papers. He noted that Little is a "name" but said, "Opinion about her are mixed, as far as we can tell."

Hunt's decision to seek Little's return comes at a time when North Carolina has received considerable national attention, much of it highly unfavorable, as the focal point of controversies such as Little's trial and that of the Wilmington Ten.

Little has been quoted recently as saying she would rather die than return to North Carolina. The Wilmington Ten, a group of nine blacks and one white convicted after racial disturbances in Wilmington, N.C., seven years ago, have become a cause celebre for activists who have pictured North Carolina as a racist, repressive state.

Within North Carolina neither case has generated much sympathy, and HUnt appears to have aroused little widespread disapproval locally for his decision not to pardon the Wilmington Ten but instead to reduce their sentences.

Hunt has rejected the criticism fron both LIttle and supporters of the Ten. he has, however, argued that the state's image has been unfairly tarnished.

His aides maintained yeaterday that there was no political motivation behind his decision to seek Little's return, although they agreed that not pressing ahead with extradition could have allowed LIttle to appear as if she were receiving special treatment.