Fannius: There is no doubt this will be the case. But you have just touched on the question of what friendship really is, and since we now have a moment of free time, I would greatly enjoy hearing your views on this subject if you would be so kind as to share them with us.
Scaevola: Yes, please, I would also be thrilled to hear your thoughts on this subject, and was about to make the same request of you myself!
Laelius: Certainly, I would be happy to oblige, if I felt I had something of value to say on this most splendid topic. But what qualifications do I have to discuss such a subject? I am not like those scholars and Greeks who are willing to discourse on any subject which is presented to them with utter confidence in their verbal abilities. I am afraid that if you are looking for such a speech you would be better off requesting one from such professional speech-makers. What I can say is simply that one should place friendship above every other human activity, for nothing in the world is so completely in harmony with nature, in good times and bad.
I will also say that true friendship is only possible between good men, like those of our ancestors, who lived lives of fairness and loyalty, honesty and integrity. Let us look to those good men who had neither contempt nor jealousy in their hearts, who never abandoned what is just for the sake of self-interest. These are the men who are capable of true friendship, for they most of all act according to nature. Nature is our best guide for how to live, having created the ties which bond us together. Notice how those who are of the same kin feel stronger towards one another then those born in different countries. It is only natural that we should develop feelings for those who are close to us.
That being said, real friendship is even stronger than being close to one’s kin. While one may feel a bond with one’s kinsmen, even in times lacking goodwill, a real friendship cannot exist without goodwill as its essential basis. This is why the bonds which connect one to his fellow brothers are many, but those which are of true friendship are much greater, and therefore more rare. Indeed, true friendship only exists between two individuals, or at most very few.
Let us define friendship as when one completely identifies with another in all their feelings about the things both human and divine, which is strengthened by goodwill and mutual affection. Other than wisdom, this is certainly the greatest gift which the gods have given to man. While some prefer riches, power, and sensual pleasures, there is in fact nothing greater than true friendship. Even an animal can experience sensual pleasures! Meanwhile, other things of this nature are fickle and fleeting, and affected by chance. Those who say that to be good is the most important thing are indeed correct, for friendship, like wisdom, is only possible when there is goodness.
Let us consider what is “good” using a practical understanding of the term, and be content to allow those philosophers so inclined to spend their days endlessly debating its true definition to the task. To speak of the benefits good men receive from their friendship, one would have to speak forever, for the benefits of friendship are without limit. Indeed, how can life be worth living other than with friendship! It is the most wonderful feeling to have someone with whom you can speak with freely about anything. In good times, one can only get the most pleasure out of their fortune when there is someone to share it with. Likewise, in times of hardship, one’s suffering will be significantly lessened by having the company of a true friend.