Cicero writes about his own experience with friendship. Cicero ponders the meaning of this friendship by using the relationship between Scipio Aemilianus and Laelius to expound his views. Laelius' speech comprises the most part and is instigated by the death of his best friend Scipio and he expresses how he could bear the loss, and explicates his grounds for bereavement. He enumerates what qualities make for good friends, explains what characteristics expose a bad friend, and provides examples from his personal life. Throughout the book, Cicero emphasizes the importance of virtue in friendship and how true friendship cannot exist without it.
The work is written as a dialogue between prominent figures of the Middle Roman republic and is set after the death of the younger Scipio Africanus (otherwise known as Scipio Aemilianus, Scipio Africanus Minor, or Scipio the Younger) in 129 BC. The interlocutors of the dialogue chosen by Cicero are Gaius Laelius a close friend of the late statesman, and Laelius's two sons-in-law, Gaius Fannius, and Quintus Mucius Scaevola. Interestingly, Scaevola himself was mentor and teacher to Cicero, who probably heard his teacher's reminiscences about these conversations first-hand.