Well, not exactly Mencius, rather the head of the Northern Mencian successor school in what was probably its second generation, writing about the year 0280. The passage in question is the next to last thing in Mencius 5. The concluding passages in several other books of the Mencius seem to be intended as wider comments on the life of the mind, or the life of the practical advisor to government. Both lives have their privileges as well as their limitations, and MC 5B8, which is not at present the last thing in MC 5B, but may once have been, shows how the former may be extended so as to obviate the latter.
Mencius said to Wan Jang, A good officer in a neighborhood should become friends with the other good officers in that neighborhood; a good officer in a state should become friends with the other good officers in that state, a good officer in the world should become friends with the other good officers in the world. And if that friendship is not enough, he may go on to undertake an acquaintance with the men of antiquity. Intoning the Poems and reciting the Documents, as we do, is it permissible not to come to know something of the men who wrote them? For this reason, he becomes acquainted with their times. These then become his "friends in antiquity."
The company of the like-minded is said, in the very first words in the Confucian Analects, to be necessary for the success of the aspirant to office. To the Mencians, such company is equally necessary for the success of the aspirant to virtue. We do not understand the documents until we understand the age out of which they arose. Once we do understand the age, we understand the men, and the men become as much friends to us as anyone who happens to live at the same time as ourselves.
Comments to The Author / Exit to Philology Page