When Cicero wrote his Laelius de amicitia, he had more enemies than friends. It was written after the murder of Caesar (March 14 44 BC) and there were only a few people left on whom he could rely, so the idea of friendship must have been lingering in his mind since. Actually he had only one friend left: Atticus, to whom this work was dedicated. Cicero was murdered the next year,,,
Cicero does not give a definition friendship, but treats the various aspects of friendship by way of three befriended interlocutors: Gaius Laelius, Gaius Fannius and Quintus Mucius Scaevola. The dialogue is set in 129 BC after the death of Scipio Africanus. Laelius had been a close friend of Scipio and is talking about Scipio’s life and what a great loss it is. He drops the word `friendship’ and the other two ask him to tell something about the idea of friendship. Laelius hesitates, saying he is no specialist on that subject, but then continues and improvises about friendship. This improvising is clearly visible in the following two paragraphs, in which Laelius starts his talk.
Cicero, Laelius de Amicitia , 18-19
(Summary: true friendship is only possible between good men. Philosopher who claim that no one can be really good, because no one is really wise, are crazy.)
 Sed hoc primum sentio, nisi in bonis amicitiam esse non posse; neque id ad vivum reseco, ut illi qui haec subtilius disserunt, fortasse vere, sed ad communem utilitatem parum; negant enim quemquam esse virum bonum nisi sapientem. Sit ita sane; sed eam sapientiam interpretantur quam adhuc mortalis nemo est consecutus, nos autem ea quae sunt in usu vitaque communi, non ea quae finguntur aut optantur, spectare debemus. Numquam ego dicam C. Fabricium, M'. Curium, Ti. Coruncanium, quos sapientes nostri maiores iudicabant, ad istorum normam fuisse sapientes. Quare sibi habeant sapientiae nomen et invidiosum et obscurum; concedant ut viri boni fuerint. Ne id quidem facient, negabunt id nisi sapienti posse concedi.
neque id ad vivum reseco: litt `I don’t cut it off by a living person’ i.e. to cut a wound free from flesh in order to clean it well. Here it is used as metaphor: `I won’t take it (the definition of a good person) too narrow’.
subtilius: in a very refined manner
dissero disserui dissertum: to discus
sed ad communem utilitatem parum: but too narrow for common use
nisi sapientem: unless he is a `sapiens’. As will be made clear in the next sentence, Cicero points to those philosophers for whom no man can be really called wise.
Sit ita sane: let that be right
sed eam sapientiam interpretantur quam, but they interpret wisdom as something which
consequor consecutus sum: here `to attain’ (normally `to follow after’)
vita communi: in daily life
fingo finxi fictum: to imagine, suppose
C. Fabricium, M'. Curium, Ti. Coruncanium: all famous men from the Roman past, all wise, but not too a degree as demanded by some of the philosophers.
Quare sibi habeant sapientiae nomen et invidiosum et obscurum; concedant ut viri boni fuerint: therefor let them have for themselves the hateful and obscure term wisdom, they have to concede that wise men have existed.
id: the definition`good person’
negabunt id nisi sapienti posse concedi. = negabunt id posse concedi nisi sapienti – who of course does not exist!
(Summary: Let’s stick to the common idea of good. Friendship is more than like a relationship with people near to us: it contains benevolence.)
 Agamus igitur pingui, ut aiunt, Minerva. Qui ita se gerunt, ita vivunt ut eorum probetur fides, integritas, aequitas, liberalitas, nec sit in eis ulla cupiditas, libido, audacia, sintque magna constantia, ut ii fuerunt modo quos nominavi, hos viros bonos, ut habiti sunt, sic etiam appellandos putemus, quia sequantur, quantum homines possunt, naturam optimam bene vivendi ducem. Sic enim mihi perspicere videor, ita natos esse nos ut inter omnes esset societas quaedam, maior autem ut quisque proxime accederet. Itaque cives potiores quam peregrini, propinqui quam alieni; cum his enim amicitiam natura ipsa peperit; sed ea non satis habet firmitatis. Namque hoc praestat amicitia propinquitati, quod ex propinquitate benevolentia tolli potest, ex amicitia non potest; sublata enim benevolentia amicitiae nomen tollitur, propinquitatis manet.
pingui Minerva ago: to handle/proceed with a fat Minerva (Minerva was the goddess of arts and herself a slim and tall maiden, so this expression means: to act foolishly – of course in the eyes of those philosophers who say that no one can be good!)
se gero: to behave oneself
aequitas –atis (f.): fairness
libido –onis (f.): inordinate desire (in Stoic philosophy it was important to control ones passions.)
audacia: (here used in its negative meaning) audacity, presumption
modo nominavi: the famous Romans mentioned in the previous section.
ut habiti sunt: as they were considered
pario peperi partum: to bring forth
quia sequantur, quantum homines possunt, naturam optimam bene vivendi ducem: because they follow, as far as human beings can. Nature, the best guide for living well (Again a Stoic trait!)
Sic enim mihi perspicere videor: litt `I for me seem to see it thus’ = `As for me, I see it this way’ The construction perspicere videor emphasises the personal point of view.
societas quaedam, maior autem ut quisque proxime accederet: some form of bond, even stronger as soon as someone happens to be very close.
potiores quam: rather than
sed ea (amicitia) non satis habet firmitatis: i.e. by nature have friendship with our relatives, but this friendship is based closeness of kin, not necessarily on a common interest and preferences or a good intention (benevolentia) towards each other
hoc: in this point
praesto praestiti praestitum (+ dat.): to be superior to, exceed
propinquitas –atis (f.): relationship
tollo sustuli sublatum: to take away
The Loeb translation by W. A. Falconer (1923)
18 This, however, I do feel first of all — that friendship cannot exist except among good men; nor do I go into that too deeply as is done by those16 who, in discussing this point with more than usual accuracy, and it may be correctly, but with too little view to practical results, say that no one is good unless he is wise. We may grant that; but they understand wisdom to be a thing such as no mortal man has yet attained. I, however, am bound to look at things as they are in the experience of everyday life and not as they are in fancy or in hope. Never could I say that Gaius Fabricius, Manius Curius, and Tiberius Coruncanius, whom our ancestors adjudged to be wise, were wise by such a standard as that. Therefore, let the Sophists keep their unpopular and unintelligible word to themselves, granting only that the men just named were good men. They will not do it though; they will say that goodness can be predicated only of the "wise" man. 19 Let us then proceed "with our own dull wits," as the saying is. Those who so act and so live as to give proof of loyalty and uprightness, of fairness and generosity; who are free from all passion, caprice, and insolence, and have great strength of character — men like those just mentioned — such men let us consider good, as they were accounted good in life, and also entitled to be called by that term because, in as far as that is possible for man, they follow Nature, who is the best guide to good living.
For it seems clear to me that we were so created that between us all there exists a certain tie which strengthens with our proximity to each other. Therefore, fellow countrymen are preferred to foreigners and relatives19a to strangers, for with them Nature herself engenders friendship, but it is one that is lacking in constancy. For friendship excels relationship in this, that goodwill may be eliminated from relationship while from friendship it cannot; since, if you remove goodwill from friendship the very name of friendship is gone; if you remove it from relationship, the name of relationship still remains.