This paper explores young people’s intercultural friendships in two of Australia’s most multicultural neighbourhoods. Friendship is often theorised as an optimal kind of conviviality; a relationship that can best enable forms of hope, reciprocity and cosmopolitan openness that are urgently required in highly diverse environments. It is perceived to be a relationship free of prescription and rule than other social institutions and hence contains possibilities for new and spontaneous ways to engage with others. However, young people’s intercultural friendships are often closely regulated, especially through formal programs to enhance cultural exchange. This paper considers how a dominant ‘contact’ framework shapes the management of youth intercultural relations in ways that might limit understandings of how and why they construct friendships in diversity. It argues that this framework can reify and over-determine cultural difference, simplify young people’s identities and social networks, and sidestep the political dimensions of their intercultural friendships by diminishing issues of racism as well as other forms of social stratification. Ultimately, the paper argues that less categorical and transactional approaches are needed to capture the fine-grained work that intercultural friendship does to enable young people to support one another in their complex social worlds.