If the former, then the phrase means: 'someone who helps you when you are in need is a true friend'.If the latter, it is 'someone who needs your help becomes especially friendly in order to obtain it'.It is hard to find a true friend in current times though it is not impossible.
Before I had need, my most present foes Seemed my most friends; but thus the world goes So, what does that evidence indicate in terms of original meaning?
Ennius' text is ambiguous and, being a later translation, can't be considered the original source of the phrase in English. The Everyman play is clearer in its intent and supports interpretation 2.
1) True friendship is a selfless bond between two individuals.
2) True friends always help each other whenever one requires the help of another.
Firstly, is it 'a friend in need is a friend indeed' or 'a friend in need is a friend in deed'?
Helping A Friend In Need Essay Review Of Related Literature And Studies Thesis
Secondly, is it 'a friend (when you are) in need' or 'a friend (who is) in need'?
4) A true friend not only helps us in need but also helps us to stay away from all the evils of the society.
5) Selfish friends always take advantages of their friends and misuse the bond of friendship.
It is safe to say that, whatever view we have now, in 1562 either 1 or 2 was the accepted meaning.
Neither 3 nor 4 appears to be supported by early texts and, as they aren't widely held today either, it seems safe to discount them.