You do not need to do anything to the table cell. A background can be made as part of the link , as well as normal button effects, by simply using standard <a href, then declaring the changes in CSS.
This is done by defining a coloured background and maybe border to extended around the text. As this background is all part of the text, it will be treated as such, and therefore you will be able to move the mouse onto the background to select the link,
In the CSS you have options to change each state of the link, Hover, visited active. This is where you create your change effects.
Here is an example of a menu which I produced entirely with CSS along with the code itself
please feel free to copy whatever you want. I assume you will be able to understand what is going on as you say you have general knowledge. Oh one more thing, when specifying all the A options, you must have link, visted, hover active, in this order otherwise it may not work.