It is difficult to sympathize with a man who is so engrossed in his own ego and is so taken by its irrational impulses. Moby Dick is the story of the mammoth ego of a relatively much smaller man! Its ending does not invoke tragedy, but only a sense of sheer futility of all ego-ridden endeavor undertaken by men.
Ego and friendship are antitheses. We cannot imagine an Adolf Hitler having a bosom friend nor can we think of Ahab relaxing in the company of his near and dear ones. Such people are lone souls, which is not necessarily bad in itself, but often they happen to be lost souls too: they are not only cut off from their fellow human beings, they are also cut off from the vast natural world that sustains our existence. The ego as such, whether big or small, is a statement of our separation with the natural world. It is very useful, in the sense that it forms the basis on which we have built the great modern civilization and conquered nature, at least to a significant extent. Polynesians and other natives do not have much of an individuated ego, they live in exquisite harmony with nature and in harmony with each other; however, they do not have a civilization. Because the ego is needed for that: a crystallized sense of self against the world. Ego thrives on this opposition. But when this ego gets totally caught up in the web of its own conceit and deceit, it is then that the road leads to perdition. We do need to assert ourselves, but not to the extent of positing ourselves at the very center of the world. Friendship and love happen only when we succeed in putting the others before ourselves, to whatever extent possible. But if we become all important to ourselves, then only death can release us from the big lie that we have become prisoners to. Friendship, love, and this feeling of oneness between ourselves and the greater whole - this is the truth. Ego is merely an illusion, albeit a very necessary one. We need to learn to lose our ego sometimes. At other times, we need to learn to use our ego, but still not be used and consumed by its megalomaniacal tendencies.
Friendship is a beautiful experience, one of the most precious that is possible in human life. All that it needs is for us to put the weight of our egos aside and try to relate to the people and the world we see around ourselves in a more meaningful and deeper way - which is exactly the kind of thing that is impossible for colossal egos like Captain Ahab. Through all its rich narrative and storytelling, the one thing that Moby Dick conveys to us in the end is the meaninglessness and pointlessness of ego-obsessesed pursuits of man.
But this is not to say that all ego is bad. For example, the central character of another nearly contemporary nineteenth-century epic, which too incidentally is set in the ocean and involves a giant sea-creature - Captain Nemo of Twenty Thousand Leagues is as gigantic an ego as is Captain Ahab. But there is a crucial distinction. Captain Nemo's ego is bent upon relentless construction, whereas Captain Ahab's ego is bent upon mindless destruction. Though both of them meet their deaths equally ingloriously at the sea, Nemo stands as a fallen hero, an inspiration